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Robb Jeffries, Forum Communications, Published November 18 2012

Grand Forks man quietly pushed for rights of disabled, leaves legacy of advocacy

GRAND FORKS - To show how it felt to be discriminated against, Robert L. “Bobby” Vogel, an advocate for the rights of disabled people, used to put colorful dots on people’s chests and then offer them a handful of M&M candies.

But they were only allowed to eat the ones that matched the dot on their shirt.

He said that’s pretty much what happens to people with disabilities when it comes to job opportunities.

The Grand Forks man died Thursday from a sudden illness at the age of 56, but those who knew him say he left a legacy of advocacy behind.

Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown described Vogel a man with a “can-do” attitude, always willing to serve and help the community. “You never saw him as a person with a disability, you just saw him as Bobby Vogel.”

Vogel, who used a wheelchair, served as a board member of Grand Forks Homes Inc., and was active in community groups such as the ARC Upper Valley, Partners in Policy Making, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered; the L.I.S.T.E.N. Center and Self-Advocacy Solutions North Dakota.

North Dakota state Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, a former City Council member, remembers Vogel from his work with the council.

“He was at almost every council meeting,” Glassheim said. “He made sure the rest of us know there are people with needs. He was very influential in a behind-the-scenes kind of way.”

His kind nature was illustrated in his interactions with city officials and his motto: “Always remember: be kind, be fair, be honest, be true; and all those things will come back to you.”

“He was very persistent, but never in a rude way,” Glassheim said. “He wouldn’t bang his fist on a table or anything like that, but he was always there to help.”

Vogel also advocated at the state level, travelling to Bismarck to lobby for civil rights and accessibility issues at the legislature. He volunteered for the Democratic-NPL party, serving as a delegate at local and state conventions.

Vogel was born April 21, 1956, in Fargo to Elsa and Robert Vogel, a former U.S. attorney for North Dakota and a justice on the state Supreme Court. They raised him in the Bismarck area before moving with him to Grand Forks in the 1970s, where his father founded a law firm and taught at UND.