Robert F. Vankirk, a retired bottle maker and former Southwest Baltimore pugilist, died of cancer Thursday at his Westport residence. He was 73.
Mr. Vankirk, known as "Pop," retired in 1991 from the Carr-Lowrey Glass Co. where he was a bottle maker for 50 years.
The Pigtown native began his boxing career in 1938 with the Cross Country Boxing Club and participated in amateur tournaments. He turned professional in 1946 and fought in the middleweight and welterweight classes.
His first professional fight was on March 4, 1946, against Pigtown rival Frank Les. He won the match in a four-round decision.
"Bobby never advanced to the main bout stage of professional boxing and ended his career in 1948," said Ray Leonard, past
president of the Veteran Boxers Association Inc. International Ring 101. "Always a crowd-pleaser, he was very well liked by his peers and was one of those fighters who always gave it his all," Mr. Leonard said.
"This guy was Mr. Pigtown, they should have changed his name to Bobby Pigtown," said George "Hunky" Sauerhoff, a Pigtown resident and a former boxer.
Recalling Mr. Vankirk's bouts at the old Coliseum on Monroe Street, Carlin's Park and the 104th Regiment Armory, Mr. Sauerhoff said, "He always had the crowd on its feet. He really gave them their money's worth.
"He used to fight every week, some of the fighters box every couple of months, but not Vankirk. Sometimes he'd fight a couple of times a week. If he had bothered to train, he probably would have won a couple of championships, but he never did."
A Southern High School graduate, Mr. Vankirk enlisted in the Navy during World War II and was a gunner aboard Liberty ships in convoy duty in the Atlantic and Pacific. After his ship was torpedoed and sunk, he survived a 22-hour ordeal at sea before being rescued. He was discharged in 1945.
Services were to be held at 10 a.m. today at Charles L. Stevens Funeral Home, 1501 E. Fort Ave.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Sophia M. Hilitch; four sons, Robert L. Vankirk of Westport, Norman J. Vankirk of Old Mill, Donald V. Vankirk of Dundalk and Raymond E. Vankirk of Lakeland; three daughters, Missy Lindenman of Riverview, Rose Marie Savage of Baltimore and Kimberley Carol Vankirk of Westport; a sister, Jean Trebes of Glen Burnie; 14 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. A son, Paul W. Vankirk, died in 1989.