DONOR SPOTLIGHT: The Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Oetgen ’50 Endowed Scholarship provides educational opportunities for Benedictine Cadets

By Noell Barnidge
Perhaps the greatest gift Susan Oetgen ever gave her husband, Bob, was a present he never received.

Robert “Bob” Mays Oetgen, Benedictine Military School Class of 1950, died June 15, 2022, after an extended illness. He was 89 years old. Soon after Bob passed away, Susan established the Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Oetgen ’50 Endowed Scholarship at Benedictine Military School to help young men attend BC.

“I established it in 2022,” Susan said. “He had not thought about that, and it amazed me because of how proud he was to tell everybody how great Benedictine was and how it made his life.

“That was, I guess, my parting gift to him,” she said, her voice cracking as she wept. “I set up the scholarship. He never knew that I did that. He died before I set it up. He never knew. I had mentioned it to him, but he just brushed it off. He said, ‘No, I want you to be well taken care of.’ He knew he was dying. But he fought it until the very end. I used a portion of my inheritance to start up the perpetual scholarship. We contribute each year to our charities and that is one of them.”

Susan’s generosity in memory of Bob has changed the lives of many Cadets. She witnessed the impact when she attended the annual Benedictine Military School Scholarship Luncheon during the 2023-24 school year.

“I was delighted to be invited this past April to the Scholarship Luncheon,” she said. “I took who is now my caregiver. She helped care-give with me for Bob. I was Bob’s primary caregiver for about five years. And I invited her to accompany me. It meant a lot to her. Benedictine changes (students’) whole lives. (Bob) learned so much about honor, integrity, friendship, loyalty, all from BC. He said it was the most wonderful education that he ever had.”

Bob attended Savannah High School as a freshman, but he transferred to Benedictine Military School for the 10th grade. He was a wide receiver on BC’s football team and graduated as a 2nd lieutenant in JROTC. He loved to joke that he was “the worst investment BC ever made.”

While at Benedictine, in 1947, Bob joined the Georgia Army National Guard. He retired from the Georgia Army National Guard/Army Reserve in 1968 with the rank of major. In 2022, about a month before Bob died, the Adjutant General of the Georgia Army National Guard awarded him a Certificate of Appreciation for his dedication.

After graduating from Benedictine, Bob worked at Union Bag (now International Paper) for two years. “He left to attend Armstrong Junior College to become an electrical engineer. That didn’t last long,” Susan said, laughing.

In January 1953, Bob began what turned out to be his lifelong career in insurance and financial planning, which he continued until 2020 at age 87. Bob earned the professional designations of Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Consultant. His success led him to become a Life Member of the Million Dollar Round Table.

“Bob had a business. He opened Oetgen and Associates Insurance,” Susan said. “He earned his broker’s license so he could deal in stocks. He also earned certification as an estate planner. He worked full-time for 30-some-odd-years but part-time up until he was 87 years old. At least once a week he made the remark that if it hadn’t been for Benedictine, he could never have been the success that he was.”

Bob was born Nov. 21, 1931, at the old Telfair Hospital in Savannah. He was raised in Bloomingdale by his parents, Ernest J. Oetgen, Sr., and Katherine Mays, along with his brothers Ernest J. Oetgen, Jr., and Frank E. Oetgen, and his sister, Katherine Woods.

“Believe it or not, in Bloomingdale there is still the old Oetgen ranch, where he grew up,” Susan said. “They didn’t have electricity or water or anything like that. He was born in 1931.”

Susan and Bob dated for three years. They were married for 36 years and lived in Savannah, Bluffton (S.C.), and Guyton. Bob was Lutheran. Susan is Methodist. “A large part of his family was Catholic for a while,” she said. “Then they went over to the Lutheran church.”

Susan and Bob did not have children together, but both were parents. “We were both previously married,” Susan said. “We were together for 39 years. He had been previously married for about 15, 18 years, but he had been divorced for a while. He had three children. His oldest one, Gary Oetgen, graduated from Benedictine. He had three kids and I have just one.”

Susan worked 28 years for Delta Airlines in Savannah. She took early retirement “because they wanted me to transfer to Atlanta and there was no way I was going into that pit of snakes at the corporate office,” she said, laughing.

“You know the philosophy of when you get older, you’re supposed to downsize?” Susan asked. “Well, Bob went the opposite. He upsized. We went from three acres in Bluffton to 230 acres in Guyton. And it was named Wild Turkey Plantation. I named it Wild Turkey Plantation because it was just loaded with wild turkeys. Bob had 150 blueberry bushes. He grew tomatoes, okra, sweet onions, grapes, and we had three ponds. He stocked them with bream and bass. All his friends came up from Savannah and surrounding areas, many of them Benedictine graduates, and they would fish and cook out.”

Bob was a member of the Savannah Golf Club. In the early 1940s, at age 10, he would access Savannah Golf Club through a gap in the fence so he could work as a caddy. He also was a member of the German Heritage Society and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. He was a former member and past President of the Savannah Exchange Club, former member of the Savannah Yacht Club, former member of the Forest City Gun Club, and served as the 1977 Campaign Chairman for the March of Dimes. Bob also was recognized by the Chatham Artillery (which was organized May 1, 1786) for more than 60 years of membership. In 2017, he became a Life Member.

“He was a wonderful husband,” Susan said. “And we will meet again.”