West Chicago has lost one of its most devoted citizens.
Robert Westrom, a former West Chicago business owner, firefighter and school board member, died Thursday at the age of 87 after a battle with lung cancer.
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Westrom was diagnosed with the cancer two years ago, his son, Dean Westrom, said. At the time, doctors gave him six months to live.
"He lasted a lot longer than that, and it was a real blessing for all of us," Dean Westrom said Sunday. "He got to see two more great-grandchildren be born, and he was able to celebrate his 64th wedding anniversary. That time was very special."
Robert Westrom settled in West Chicago after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1954, he and his wife, Thelma "Chicki" Westrom, opened the Shoe Tree in town, one of several business he'd operate before his retirement in 2005.
"The Shoe Tree was the main shoe store in West Chicago for many years," Dean Westrom said. "Remember, there were no malls in those days. Dad liked being part of the business community here."
Robert Westrom was always active in local civic groups like the Jaycees and the Rotary Club. Through those groups, he helped raise money via door-to-door pleas for the community's first swimming pool.
A longtime volunteer firefighter, Westrom also was part of the drive to create a fire protection district in West Chicago. With help from other firefighters, Westrom lobbied for passage of a state law authorizing the creation of a district, then collected signatures from local residents.
In addition to all that, Westrom served on the West Chicago High School District 94 school board for 13 years, nine of which he spent as board president.
"Dad believed strongly that the community gave him a lot, and so it was his responsibility to give back," Dean Westrom said. "Some of that came from his service in World War II. Many of the guys in his platoon were killed. Dad used to wonder why he survived and they didn't. It inspired him to give back whenever and wherever he could."
Westrom is survived by his wife, four children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.