Robert “Bob” Ontiveros, founder of major Quad Cities employer Group O and dedicated philanthropist, passed away peacefully Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, at home with his wife, Blenda, and other family members by his side. He was 83.
Born Aug. 17, 1938, Bob was the third of 11 children of John and Josephine Ontiveros, who raised their family in an 800-square-foot, two-bedroom house on the west end of Moline, Illinois, now known as the Floreciente neighborhood. From these humble beginnings, Bob grew to become one the nation’s most successful Latino entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
Bob’s maternal grandparents, Cirilo and Dolores Rocha, immigrated to the United States from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in 1918 with Bob’s mother, Josephine, and her sister Jesse. They lived in a boxcar home in the Silvis, Illinois, railyards, then later Cook’s Point, a shantytown in Davenport, Iowa. The family, which grew to include seven children, eventually settled in Bettendorf, Iowa, where Cirilo worked as an onion farmer and foundry worker for the Bettendorf Company.
Inspired by his grandfather, Bob demonstrated a strong work ethic at a very young age. To earn money as a child, he collected and returned glass bottles to the neighborhood grocer, mowed lawns and cleaned garages. In his early teenage years, he worked as a busboy at the 15th-floor restaurant atop the LeClaire Hotel in downtown Moline.
At Moline High School, Bob excelled at wrestling and track & field. After suffering a serious elbow injury that ended his wrestling career, he joined the school’s basketball team to stay active and social with his peers.
Following his high school graduation, Bob worked his way through one year at the University of Cincinnati followed by one year at Moline Community College, now Blackhawk Community College. While at Moline Community College, he met Blenda Crummer of Freeport, Illinois. She was a nursing student at Moline Lutheran Hospital, now UnityPoint Health – Trinity. They got married in 1960, settled in Rock Island and had two boys, Christopher and Gregg.
Bob started his professional career as a sales representative for Dunn & Bradstreet (D&B). There he found his knack for meeting business owners and identifying their unique needs and business challenges.
After a few years with D&B, Bob took a chance on a job with R.V. Evans Company, a small industrial packaging startup out of Decatur, Illinois. R.V. Evans was the local dealer for Paslode pneumatic nail guns, which benefited the booming construction industry of the 1960s, and Bob was given the territory of north central Illinois and eastern Iowa. There he learned from the company’s founder Dick Evans to treat customers as he would like to be treated. After seven years of watching the industry grow, Bob and Blenda saw an opportunity to start their own business. Supported by a few local investors, they founded Bi-State Packaging in 1974.
Bi-State Packaging was located on the far east end of Moline in a 2,000-square-foot building with two small offices. Bob drove the family station wagon that doubled as the company delivery vehicle, and Blenda covered all office functions, including quotes, sales orders, and eventually, as the company grew, payroll.
Although the early years presented a fair share of challenges, Bob and Blenda’s resilience never wavered. They assembled a team of eager young people whom they trusted to manage the operations. The team, including their two sons, transformed Bi-State Packaging into a multi-faceted business enterprise respected throughout North America for its packaging solutions, supply chain services as well as incentive marketing programs.
Today, Group O is one of the largest Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce ranks the company as one of the top five Latino-owned businesses in the country with revenues over $500 million and more than 1,000 employees. With major global clients, including AT&T, Samsung, Michelin, Caterpillar, PepsiCo and Best Buy, Group O, now run by Gregg Ontiveros, is one of the largest employers in the Quad Cities and has operations in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Mexico.
Bob loved to sell things – anything, and he excelled at it. Focused on the needs of his customers and making them happy, he would often say to his team: “Do me a favor, will you? Sell something today.”
While growing the family business, Bob and Blenda enjoyed a very active social life with decades-long friends. Golf at Oakwood Country Club and Short Hills Country Club in the Quad Cities and Longboat Key Club in Longboat Key, Florida, was among his many favorite pastimes. Others included world travel, cycling, running, snowmobiling, boating, skiing and handball.
Bob never forgot his roots, especially the Floreciente neighborhood. He quietly supported almost all efforts, big and small, to enhance the lives of Mexican-Americans in the Quad Cities. After he retired as CEO of Group O and became chairman of the company in 1999, he developed the neighborhood’s Community Health Care, Familia Dental and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Valley, whose Teen Center in Moline was renamed in 2019 to the Robert & Blenda Ontiveros Teen Center.
In 2008, Bob founded the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. A professional relationship builder, Bob believed in the power of networking and wanted to help grow business opportunities for fellow Hispanic entrepreneurs.
With his son Christopher and granddaughter Maria, Bob founded Mercado on Fifth in 2016 with the vision of providing a vibrant gathering place for Floreciente residents and a platform for minority businesses. The growing nonprofit organization known for its popular night market in the summer has become a destination in the Quad Cities for residents and visitors of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Bob was also a major supporter of Fourth Wall Films’ efforts to produce documentaries about Hero Street U.S.A. in Silvis, Illinois. Hero Street is famous for having the most combat deaths of any single street in the U.S. – eight Mexican American soldiers born to refugees of the Mexican Revolution like Bob’s grandparents.
He and Blenda have created numerous endowed scholarship funds for Hispanic students. In 2012, they made a $100,000 gift to Augustana College for that purpose, and in 2020, they donated $1 million to their alma mater, Blackhawk College, the institution’s largest gift of all time. They have also supported many other organizations throughout the Quad Cities, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) chapters in Davenport and Moline, Moline Schools, Niabi Zoo, Scott Community College, WQPT PBS and WVIK Quad Cities NPR.
Among his many accomplishments, Bob was extremely proud of being named Chairman of the Board of the Quad Cities Civic Center Authority that governs the 12,000-seat arena in downtown Moline, originally known as The MARK of the Quad Cities, now the TaxSlayer Center. Bob served as Chairman from 1996 to 2003 - a proud achievement for Bob since local business leaders nominated and re-elected him for this position.
Another major accomplishment was being named one of six 2013 State of Illinois Lincoln Award honorees, the State’s highest honor, recognizing his professional and community achievements. Other notable recognitions include an Outstanding Community Leadership award from the State of a Illinois Comptroller, a Legacy Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the Chicago Minority Business Development Council and Negocios Now.
He is also an inductee of the Minority Business Hall of Fame, the Black Hawk College Alumni Hall of Fame, the Junior Achievement of the Heartland Business Hall of Fame and the Jeremiah Milbank Society, a national society that honors individuals who give $10,000 or more to the Boys and Girls Clubs. In addition, he is a recipient of the Western Illinois University Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (along with Blenda) and an honorary doctorate from Augustana College. He previously served on Augustana’s Board of Trustees along with many other local, state and national organizations.
In retirement, Bob knew how to live in the present and make the most of each day. He exercised daily, maintained connections with longtime friends through daily emails and phone calls, relished time with his family, including grandchildren and great grandchildren, and noted daily highlights of his meetings in a journal.
Bob was preceded in death by his parents and siblings, Maria Elena, Lawrence, Rita and Steven. He is survived by his siblings, John (Laura), Frank (Lorna), Christine (Jeff) Reem, Joanne (Ray) Bender, Michael and Cindy (Dave) Newton; his sons, Christopher (Pamela) and Gregg; his grandchildren, Maria (Jack Cullen), Allie, Dana, Will, Josie and Kendall; and great grandchildren Emma, Stella and Anna Catherine.
A celebration of life for family and friends will be held this spring at the new Mercado on Fifth building.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Bob’s honor to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Valley or Mercado on Fifth.
Stories and condolences at TrimbleFuneralHomes.com.