For Bob Snyder, it’s a long way from Poughkeepsie. Or maybe not.
For the nearly 10 years that he’s led the Flagler County Health Department, Snyder’s been the face of public health, campaigning for vaccine access in schools, gaining prominence as he stood up special needs shelters during the hurricanes of 2016, 2017 and since, then gaining something of a celebrity status, with Health Department Medical Director Dr. Stephen Bickel, as the duo appeared weekly for well over a year on WNZF for pandemic updates, with impressive results. The pandemic took its ravages, but Flagler had the distinction of remaining among the lowest-hit counties in the state.
Since the pandemic Snyder has been focusing on modernizing the Health Department‘s facilities on Dr. Carter Boulevard as it returned to its pre-pandemic responsibilities, working with Flagler Cares, the social services coordinating agency, on building up an addiction-treatment infrastructure through state and local grants (some of them from Bickel), and contending with the–how to put this gently–esoteric regime at the state Health Department.
So it was entirely a surprise when he got sa call a few weeks ago from Trevor Tucker, the former school board member, asking him to join tucker and Halvern Johnson for lunch. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was about. Tucker couldn’t possibly be thinking of drafting Snyder to run for public office (or could he?). Johnson’s title–field director of the Boy Scouts of America’s Central Florida Council–was a stronger hint as to what this was about.
It was: Bob Snyder is the 2023 Golden Eagle honoree. He’s receiving the honor this evening at the annual Flagler County Boy Scout Golden Eagle Dinner at Hammock Dunes Resort. (“I’m not sure exactly how they came up with Bob, but they chose Bob and they asked me to go ask him if he would be the Golden Eagle dinner honoree,” Tucker, a member of the Golden Eagle fund-raising committee, said. Of Snyder, whom he got to know while serving on the school board, he said: “I don’t know how anyone cannot like man.”)
Previous service as a scout isn’t a requisite of the award, which recognizes the qualities of selfless public service above all–trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness. But Snyder very much was a Scout for many years in childhood and until his sophomore year in high school in Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie, NY.
“I was just so thrilled because all of a sudden, I got just these fond memories, fun and fond memories that came blasting back of my childhood, and just years later realizing how important and pivotal scouting was to me and what I later chose as a career,” Snyder said.
“Scouting was a really big part of my life growing up in Hyde Park, New York. I was active in scouting for about seven, eight years. Started out as a Cub Scout and all those activities and then Weblos and then graduated to Boy Scouts and hung in there, and at age 13 was awarded the Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank in scouts. So just a really big part of my life. I was into sports, little league and church activities, but scouting was it for me.”
He loved the outdoors, camping, canoeing in all four seasons with a motivating scout leader called Anne Cunningham, who led the troupe of 12 to 15 boys with her husband. He earned 23 merit badges on his way to becoming an Eagle, some of them for skills that would help him directly in his career, like public speaking: the speech he gave earning him the badge landed him a spot as a radio announcer for the first time. The show was called Council Fire and was dedicated to all things scouting, but its host was retiring. Snyder took over and hosted for a year, back in the days of reel-to-reel tape and before he knew how to drive: his parents drove him to the station.
“Lo and behold years later my positions in health care management and community service often put me in the place of having to embrace public speaking and learn how to communicate with others,” Snyder said. “I attribute learning those skills to scouting. So that’s just an example of 55 years later thinking back as to how scouting helped me develop as a communicator and and as a leader.”
He’d left Hyde Park–FDR’s hometown–when he was 18 to attend Siena College, got his first job as a staff researcher for four years for then New York Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson (the Republican who crafted the legislation to save New York City from bankruptcy in 1975, after President Ford’s infamous “Drop Dead” snub to the city). He then got his master’s in public health at the University of South Carolina before working with Humana, becoming chief operating officer for the hospital in Waterman, then CEO for a combined 10 years–until AdventHealth, then known as Florida Hospital, took over: the chain likes its top executives to be Seventh Day Adventists, and Snyder was not (he’s a practicing Catholic).
That landed him in Flagler County when Memorial Hospital was building the new hospital on State Road 100, nearer the interstate. Memorial Health Systems hired him to oversee the planning, development, financing and construction project. He was vice president of memorial Health. But once again, as the project was around 80 percent completion, Florida Hospital took over, and Snyder was not among the chosen for its emerging hierarchy. He worked for the organization for three years, then left for Orlando Health for 10 years, where he finished his career as a hospital administrator, including leading South Seminole Hospital. All that time he was commuting from his home in Flagler: he and his wife loved their home on John Anderson Highway.
He retired in 2012, only to get a push from fellow-Rotarian Patrick Johnson, at the time the administrator of the Flagler County Health Department, to take over for Johnson when he retired in 2015.
“One of the high points of my term on City Council was meeting and getting to know Bob Snyder,” Bob Cuff, a former Palm Coast City Council member, said. “In 2016 I was like many, perhaps most, residents of Flagler County – only vaguely aware of the Health Department and the man who ran it. That changed dramatically by 2020 when Bob Snyder’s leadership became a huge source of comfort to the community as the pandemic deepened. His quiet leadership style, professional accomplishments and tireless work have honored the County he serves for years and the least we can do is recognize that service and return the favor, in a very small way, by making Bob Snyder our 2023 Golden Eagle honoree. And discovering that he was an Eagle Scout by age 14 didn’t even seem all that surprising after watching him in action over the last few years.”
Snyder joins previous honorees who have included Cuff, who’d also been the chief counsel for ITT when ITT was building Palm Coast, Tucker, Jay Gardner, the property appraiser, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, Michael Chiumento III, the land use attorney ion Palm Coast, Sandra McDermott of Coast Title Insurance, and others.
The Boy Scouts of America’s Central Florida Council, headed by Jeff Jennings, covers seven counties, Johnson said. There are some 500 enrolled Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and almost 13,000 in the district. There are some 10 troupes in Flagler, Johnson said. Tonight’s dinner, one of 12 like it across the district, is focused exclusively on Flagler. The fund-raising goal is $40,000, which helps in training adult leaders and underwrites the cost of scout membership for those who can’t afford it. It helps pay for the scout camp in Lake County, and programs that cover ages 5 to 20 (there’s an explorer program for older members). A typical membership is $126 a year.
“Bob is a fantastic honoree for us,” Johnson said, “the joy and his kindness for wanting to give back to the community, it’s been great.”
Snyder can be fierce in his advocacy of one cause or another, his defense of the Health Department, his impatience with the way science and public health can be politicized at the expense of people’s well-being. But his default demeanor, the way people see him in public most of the time, is with a bright smile that seems never to have left him since his younger days (with the possible exception of that picture when he was 13). He attributes his disposition to that childhood.
“The happiest memories,” he said, “definitely had to do with being with the fellow scouts and just wonderful dads and and parents who supported us, whether it was financially or whether it was going on camping trips with us, going on canoe trips, going on trips to New York City. Just so many really cool memories, Klondike derbies and Pinewood derbies. It was just a wonderful upbringing and childhood, and all centered on on us being Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.”