Robert Glenn ’72 — A Keeper of African Tribal History

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If you meet Robert Glenn ’72, you’ll likely learn three key things about him: 1) he loves his wife of 51 years, Gayle (Jakubos) Glenn, and their family; 2) he has a passion for track and field and mentoring young student-athletes; and 3) he is fascinated with African tribal artifacts and is a dedicated collector.
Today, Robert and Gayle live in Goodyear, Arizona, and while Robert might be retired, he continues to coach track and field at Estrella Foothills High School. His passion for the sport stems back to his own time as a student-athlete as a member of the track and field and cross country teams at Olivet College. In fact, Robert was the captain of the 1971 and 1972 track and field teams and a previous record holder in the 440 and one-mile relays, as well as the 440 dash. He was even named to the All-MIAA Track and Field Team in 1971.
“I was born, raised and educated in Detroit, and I attended Detroit Public Schools,” Robert said. “I chose Olivet because my high school adviser suggested that I might like a small college with a family-type atmosphere rather than going to a larger university where I would just be a number. I will always be appreciative of my coaches, teachers and friends. The late coach Gary Morrison, Stu Parsell and Joe Rogers all had a great role in my development as a person.
“I also met my best friend and then-future wife Gayle (Jakubos) Glenn at Olivet College. We were married as students at Olivet, and we have been together now for 51 years. We have two daughters, three grandsons and three great-grandchildren.”
Robert studied social studies with a minor in physical education, and he pursued his secondary teaching certification. He retired after serving 35 years as a teacher, coach and administrator for Detroit Public Schools. In retirement, Robert remained active as a coach, a track and field official and a high school track meet organizer.
In his free time, Robert’s interest in African tribal art also grew. He started collecting in 1989 with his first purchase of an Ashanti stool from Ghana. Robert initially began collecting as a distributor with the intent to resell the pieces. He quickly realized that it was difficult to part with many of the items, and he shifted his focus to personally collecting.

Robert’s favorite piece, Chokwe figure of the ruler Mwanangana.

“I collect African tribal artifacts because each piece that I obtain has its own history, and I enjoy researching the history,” Robert said. “My favorite piece might be the Chokwe figure of the ruler Mwanangana. He holds a staff that contains a substance that channels the supernatural to assist in the hunt for food.”
In 2010, Robert even became a certified African artifacts appraiser. He now has over 300 wooden, bronze and terracotta artifacts in his collection.
“Items from my collection have been on display at Olivet College, the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit and the West Valley Museum here in Arizona,” Robert said. “When collecting African tribal art, there are several questions I ask myself: who made it, who owned it, how did they use it, what does it represent or mean and when was it used? African tribal art is almost never meant to beautify or decorate. It is used for tribal worship, rituals, magic and communicating with the supernatural.
“I have no immediate plans to stop collecting objects because, like all Olivet students, I live to learn, and I guess you can call me the keeper of the pieces. The world of African tribal art is a world of content and form. My objects bring the significance and perfection of that world a little closer to us all.”
Learn more about Olivet College at www.olivetcollege.edu.