Family, friends and fellow elected officials gathered Saturday to remember Robert W. Depke, the longtime Lake County politician who died last week at his Gurnee home after a yearlong illness. He was 84.
About 200 people attended the late afternoon ceremony at Gurnee Community Church, where speakers hailed the former Warren Township supervisor and Lake County Board chairman as a visionary leader and a devoted father and husband to GeorgeAnne, the "love of his life" and wife of 45 years.
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Son Rob Depke recalled his father's insistence on hard work; his love of fireworks ("it's a miracle none of us were injured"); his generosity and the lessons he taught them about business and life.
"His dream was more buildings, more services, more land," said friend Daniel Stolarik, who described himself as a "graduate of the Depke School of Republican politics."
"He never accepted 'no' for an answer," Stolarik said. "He loved life. He loved people. In many ways, he made our lives better."
Born in Waukegan on July 11, 1929, Depke worked in his father's garage and played on the Warren Township High School championship football team, the Rev. Chris Stephens said. A member of the National Guard during the Korean War, Depke was a founding member of the Gurnee Lions Club and served that organization for 58 years, said Stephens, who described Depke as "a man of strength and principle who loved his family unconditionally."
"He loved Warren Township and Gurnee through and through," said Lake County Clerk Willard Helander, who described Depke as "a solid Republican who knew how to reach across the aisle and build consensus."
"He wanted an equal shot for every family in every community to have an equal slice of the American dream," she said.
Helander referenced Depke's efforts to assist the growth of major corporations like Abbott Laboratories and Baxter International; his fight to keep open the Great Lakes Naval Station threatened by military cutbacks; his determination to bring automated voting to Lake County, and the flood relief and road improvement projects he supported. Helander told attendees that the man opponents and open-space advocates dubbed "Bulldozer Bob" for his pro-growth stance helped ensure the preservation of 257 acres of Lake County Forest Preserve as open space.
But Depke's greatest source of public pride was the Warren Township complex, which serves seniors, young people and children with special needs.
"All those children who needed help, he built them a playground," said a tearful GeorgeAnne Depke, who thanked everyone for their love and support and asked them to consider making a donation to the Warren Special Recreation Association in her husband's name.
Several people commented on Depke's determination and his outsize personality, including former Gurnee Mayor Richard Welton, a Depke friend and colleague for 20 years.
"He was a once in a lifetime show," Welton said.