By Cove Currents Resident Donna Miceli
To say that Bob and Peg Kleckner were world travelers would be a serious understatement. During his long career with an international accounting firm Bob traveled to 54 different countries. “My job required a lot of international travel and Peg was good enough to come with me,” he commented. Peg laughingly replied, “It wasn’t that I was ‘good enough.’ I jumped at the chance.” Traveling with Bob took her to 40 different countries over a period of about 25 years.
Both Bob and Peg are natives of Dayton, Ohio, and according to Peg, never left Ohio until they were in their 30s. They met at a wedding. At the time, Peg was a sophomore at Miami of Ohio, where she earned a degree in education. “My roommate was getting married, and I was in the wedding party,” Peg explained. “Bob was in the wedding too. It was love at first sight, but it took two more years before he would marry me. I had to graduate and get a job first.” They will celebrate their 63rd anniversary on June 13th this year.
Bob earned a degree in accounting from the University of Dayton and after serving six months of active duty in the Army Reserves, he began a teaching assistantship at Ohio State. “One of my professors at Dayton encouraged me to go to college, but I didn’t have the money, so he got me the teaching assistantship there,” Bob explained. After receiving his MBA, Bob worked for a large CPA firm for a few months before leaving and starting his own firm, Kleckner and Cole, with a fellow Ohio State graduate. That eventually led to a partnership with Alexander Grant and Company.
“It was a mid-size accounting firm, and they wanted me to relocate to either Cleveland or Boston,” Bob recalled. “We chose Boston where I was a partner in charge of the office. After a couple of years, we were relocated to New York City for six or seven years before eventually relocating to Chicago.” As CEO of the Chicago office, his responsibilities were purely domestic. “I made it my goal to visit every office in the firm,” Bob said. “I also made a habit of getting to know representatives from international companies when they came to visit our offices.”
Meanwhile, Peg taught fourth grade in Dayton until they started moving and having children. “When we moved to Boston, the youngest of our three daughters was an infant, so I let teaching go until we got to Illinois, and then I started volunteering in the schools as a reading tutor,” Peg recalled. “One of the teachers suggested I get my Illinois license, which I did, only to find out we were moving to Florida.”
They moved to Fort Myers in 1991 and bought a home at The Forest. At that time Florida wouldn’t accept out-of-state certifications, so Peg went back to volunteering. Eventually that changed and she began working for the Sylvan Learning Center in Fort Myers. She also volunteered as an instructor in English as a Second Language (ESL).
During the 1960s, like many other accounting companies, Alexander Grant and Company began to expand their business internationally and eventually merged with Thorton Baker and Company, a prominent accounting firm in the United Kingdom (UK). In 1986, they officially became Grant Thornton International. A year later Bob was promoted to the position of Manager of Grant Thornton International.
Bob recalled what they told him at that time. “You know how you visited all our partners in the United States? Well, we want you to do the same thing with our international offices.” That’s when the Kleckner adventures began. Stories of some of their most memorable trips would make good subject matter for a comedy series, beginning with the time Bob fought a bull during a trip to Mexico. “They told me it was a baby bull, but it was actually a pretty good size,” Bob said.
“Apparently, the Mexican partners thought it would be a privilege or an honor,” Peg added. “Bob had to ride in on a donkey and his feet were practically dragging on the ground. It was a little disconcerting because I was sitting with the partners, and they were cheering for the bull.”
Frequent trips to Hong Kong and China were also part of the Kleckners’ adventures. Peg recalled that in Hong Kong they always had a ceremony where they dotted the eye of a paper mâché dragon or lion. “Dotting the eye was significant to the business,” she explained. “Bob dotted the eye several times.” In 1997, when the UK returned Hong Kong to China, Bob and Peg were invited to attend the ceremony.
Their trips to China are at the top of the Kleckners’ list of interesting experiences. Beijing had just opened to foreigners when they made their first trip, so they were among the first people to go there. “We were met at the airport by a guide,” Bob said. “The guide was like a ‘minder.’ I assumed she was just going to see us to the hotel, but she was with us wherever we went. She was very helpful, but we knew we were under surveillance all the time.” Two of their most interesting experiences happened while they were on that trip.
The first one—which Bob refers to as “the time Peg was kidnapped”—happened when they went to see the Great Wall. “We were walking along, and Peg was behind me,” Bob recalled. “I heard her call ‘Bob, Bob.’ I turned around and a little old lady had Peg by the arm and was pulling her toward a bench where she sat her down, and then people lined up to sit next to her and somebody would take their picture.”
The other interesting experience happened when they were walking in Tiananmen Square. As Bob recalled, groups of five or ten young people would come up to them and one of them who could speak English would ask, “Hey foreigner, where you from?” When Bob told them the United States, they would ask him to say something. “They just wanted to hear someone speak English,” Bob commented. “We were like a freak show.”
On a more serious note, one of Bob’s most memorable trips to the UK was the time he accidently found himself in London on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral. “Nothing was open,” Bob remembered. “I’ve never seen crowds so silent. A few people were crying.”
Bob finally retired in 2001 and they moved to Cypress Cove in 2018. According to Peg, the decision “was a no brainer.” Bob’s main concern was end-of-life care. “At every other place we went to they walked around that issue,” he noted. “When we asked about it, they would say ‘yeh, but let me show you the bocce course,’ or something like that. At Cypress Cove, we got a tour of each of the levels, and they were very proud of it.”
Their world travels may be over, but the Kleckners are happily settled into life at beautiful Cypress Cove in South Fort Myers, Florida.