.One of the worst things Bob Dobkin was told by a relative after his father's death when he was 9 years old was that he and his brother were now the "men of the house."
"It took the joy out of just being a boy and forced me to be a more serious character," he said.
"That was until I met my 'Big.'"
Walt Masters of Moundsville, left, receives an award from Big Brothers Big Sisters and his “Little,” Bob Dobkin of Wheeling. The two were paired through the program when Dobkin was a teen, and they still keep in touch. Dobkin is the first “Little” to serve on the organization’s board of directors.
Dobkin's mother sought out Big Brothers Big Sisters matches for her four children after their father died. Dobkin was paired with Walt Masters of Moundsville when he was about 12 years old. Now in his 30s, Dobkin still keeps in touch with his "Big Brother," who is now 85.
They reminisce about endless bowls of ice cream, bike rides, and trips on country roads in Masters' little pickup truck.
"We probably ate more ice cream than was legal," said Dobkin.
Masters was a father of four grown children, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the South Pacific during World War II, and an employee at Solvay Chemicals, from where he retired after 30 years of service.
"He was a 60-year-old kid. He's still a little kid today. He's always full of life. He always pedaled faster than me on a bicycle," said Dobkin, who now lives in Wheeling with his wife, Amy, and 2-year-old son, Ben.
Masters took Dobkin to local airports to look at planes and also took him for rides in an antique oil truck that is now on display at the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg.
These excursions were like salve on Dobkin's broken heart, he said.
"There's no way I'll ever be able to repay him for what he did for me in my youth," Dobkin said.
In a letter written last year to Big Brothers Big Sisters about Masters, Dobkin said: "He shared so much of his time and values with me as a youth. In my youth, he was a picture of strength, and when you coupled that with the stories he shared of his life, he was inspiring. ... He taught me while there is a place for toughness, there is an even bigger place for gentleness, and his stories taught me to be a patriot."
Most of all, Dobkin said: "He taught me to be a kid again."
Last year, Masters received an award from Big Brothers Big Sisters for his service to Dobkin. The two still see each other from time to time, although not as often as either would like. Dobkin is busy raising his son, taking classes and working at Chesapeake Energy. He is the first "Little" to serve on the Big Brothers Big Sisters board.
"I think the world of Bobby," said Masters, who lives at home with his wife Madge, a retired schoolteacher.
He is grateful to Big Brothers Big Sisters for giving him the chance to make a difference in a child's life.
"It was delightful. I don't remember a bad day of doing it."