Bob Dambach, longtime director of television for Prairie Public in North Dakota, died Friday at Essential Health in Fargo, N.D., in the presence of his family after suddenly collapsing two days earlier. He was 70.
Robert Otto Dambach worked in public broadcasting for 40 years prior to his 2018 retirement from Prairie Public. He began his career as a graduate student at the University of Iowa, where he worked on Hawkeye football broadcasts and production of the Phil Donahue Show while earning a master’s degree in radio, TV and film.
Dambach directed programming for KMUW in Wichita, Kan., before joining the newly licensed KNPR in Las Vegas in 1979 as its first PD. He met Virginia Carman Mulloy, the station’s development director, and the pair fell in love, marrying in June 1982. In 1985 Bob and Virginia both accepted jobs with at Prairie Public and moved their family to Fargo. Bob served as PD at Prairie Public until his promotion to director of television in 1996.
Dambach produced dozens of award-winning TV programs, most notably nine documentaries about the Germans from Russia — an enduring ethnic group in North Dakota. The inaugural program, Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppes; Children of the Prairie, was broadcast by Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Dambach received an award for the documentary in Prague.
He was the driving force behind hundreds of successful TV pledge drives and inaugurated the KidZone literary project. He frequently recruited his daughters Mary and Jeanne Louise to appear during pledge drives, as extras for local productions and as the talent and voices behind KidZone.
“This is a profound loss for Bob’s friends at Prairie Public and our viewers,” said Prairie Public CEO John Harris. “We will always remember Bob’s insistence on high quality, his ability to raise enthusiasm for projects and his ‘Last Annual Holiday Parties’ where he played Santa.”
After Dambach became an insulin-dependent diabetic in 1996, he created a series to educate and assist others with health issues. He was EP of five Healthworks documentaries. Companion websites with additional research from those programs garnered the highest usage of Prairie Public’s website at that time. His relationship with Buck Paulson led to Prairie Public’s production of Painting with Paulson, a nationally distributed how-to series.
Dambach was born to Robert Anthony and Rita Anne (Bogert) Dambach in July 1951 in Newark, N.J. The second of six children, he grew up in Whippany, N.J., and graduated from Bayley Ellard High School, where he lettered in football and won many state and regional swimming meets at the Anchor Swim Club. Dambach attended the University of Dayton on a football scholarship and graduated with a degree in history.
Damback is survived by his wife Virginia; daughters Mary (Zach) Leibel of Moorhead, Minn., and Jeanne (Dustin) Steiner of Fargo; grandchildren Reuben, Judah, Dinah, Hannah and Esther Leibel and Addison and Gracelyn Steiner; siblings Linda (Greg) Kehoe of Vienna, Va., Ricky (Ellen) Dambach of Southport, N.C., Peter (Kathy) Dambach of Lanoka Harbor, N.J., Barry (Annette) Dambach of Flemington, N.J., and Kristy (John) Scaramuzzo of Greensboro, N.C.; and many nephews, nieces and cousins. He also leaves a multitude of friends and dozens of colleagues — producers, directors, editors and videographers — who carry Bob’s legacy of broadcast excellence in radio, television and film nationwide.
A celebration of life will be scheduled for late spring in Fargo’s Lindenwood Park, where Dambach walked every day for many years. Memorial gifts may be made to the National Park Foundation, the State Historical Society of North Dakota or the Civil War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust.