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updated: 6/21/2014 7:16 PM

Lake County giant Robert 'Bob' Depke dies

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  • Robert "Bob" Depke

      Robert "Bob" Depke

  • Former Lake County Board Chairman Robert Depke and his wife, GeorgeAnne, smile as they look over a room of friends who gathered to "roast" the end of his long political career at an event in Waukegan Dec. 4, 1997.

      Former Lake County Board Chairman Robert Depke and his wife, GeorgeAnne, smile as they look over a room of friends who gathered to "roast" the end of his long political career at an event in Waukegan Dec. 4, 1997.
    Daily Herald file photo/Paul Valde

  • Robert Depke smiles as he fellow Warren Township board members recap his service as supervisor at his last meeting in Gurnee on April 28, 1997.

      Robert Depke smiles as he fellow Warren Township board members recap his service as supervisor at his last meeting in Gurnee on April 28, 1997.
    Daily Herald file photo/Paul Valade

  • Outgoing Lake County Board Chairman Robert Depke chats with County Administrator Dwight Magalis before Depke's last board meeting in December 1996.

      Outgoing Lake County Board Chairman Robert Depke chats with County Administrator Dwight Magalis before Depke's last board meeting in December 1996.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

Robert "Bob" Depke was a larger-than-life personality who was a force in Warren Township and Lake County politics for decades.

But when it came to family, "he was a marshmallow," his son Shawn Depke said.

Bob Depke, 84, had been ill for a year. He died peacefully Friday night in his Gurnee home.

"I think he carried his emotions wherever he went," former Lake County Board Chairman David Stolman said. "He was touched by a lot of things and a lot of people. He was genuinely trying to do good by everyone."

As Warren Township supervisor for 35 years and Lake County Board chairman in the 1960s and 1990s, Depke didn't "back down from any challenge," former Lake County Chairman Jim LaBelle recalled.

Back in the 1980s, it was either "growth or no growth," in the county, LaBelle said, and Depke "prided himself on being 'Bulldozer Bob.'"

Political opponents and open-space advocates gave the Republican the label for his pro-development stance. But Depke soon welcomed nickname, displaying a toy bulldozer in his office, his son said.

Over his career, Depke helped expedite the growth of corporate giants such as Baxter International and Abbott Laboratories. When the federal government threatened to close the Great Lakes Naval Station among military cutbacks in the early 1990s, Depke was one of the key figures fighting to keep the base near North Chicago, former colleagues say.

In a contested move, the county board named a new facility after him -- the Robert W. Depke Juvenile Justice Complex in Vernon Hills -- on the heels of his surprise primary defeat in 1996.

"There were tremendous accomplishments, great growth," said Stolman, elected to the board in 1992. "Some people attribute them to the time. The reality is he had a lot to do with it."

But Depke's biggest source of pride was the sprawling Warren Township complex, where Depke helped bring services for seniors, youth and children with special needs, Shawn Depke said.

In 1996, Bob Depke told the Daily Herald, "We've done a lot with the township center. We have 80 acres of open space, we've got all kinds of programs, and as far as I'm concerned, it's the number one township in the country."

Depke's strong, unflinching personality meant he created both friends and enemies during his career, LaBelle said.

"Dad loved his politics, but he loved his family more," Shawn Depke said. "He was the rock that held our family together."

And for someone who didn't go to college, the Warren Township High School grad "did well," met presidents and senators and traveled the world, Shawn Depke said.

"He was above his years and times," his son said. "The man had visions people still don't have."

Services are being arranged for Friday and Saturday.

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