Jack Roeser, a businessman and conservative icon in the suburbs who was one of the earliest supporters of the Tea Party in Illinois and who staunchly opposed organized labor, abortion and other liberal causes, died Friday morning.
Roeser, 90, was diagnosed with colon cancer in November and died at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village surrounded by his family, said his son, Tom.
"He one time told me, 'My father was such a good man. I thought if that's what it takes to be a man, I will never be one,'" Tom Roeser said.
"And I have to say that about my father now, because it's true."
An engineer, Jack Roeser founded Otto Engineering, a family-owned business in Carpentersville that produces joysticks, control switches, two-way radio accessories and operator controls.
In 2013, it had more than 500 employees and annual sales of more than $79 million.
As Roeser's business grew, so did his political influence among conservative Republican candidates, who vied for his financial support in taking on more moderate members of the party.
"Jack was a friend, a supporter, a fighter and a patriot," the Chicago Republican Party said in a statement. "He dedicated his time and effort to making Illinois and the nation a better place. He will be missed."
Roeser ran for office only once -- he challenged Gov. Jim Edgar in the 1994 Republican primary and lost badly -- and after that settled for putting considerable money into candidates who ran on platforms of lower taxes and who supported his conservative views.
One of them is Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who released a statement Friday calling Roeser "a veteran and a patriot" who "used his business success to give back to the community.
"He was always willing to stand up for what he believed in and impacted many lives in a positive way," Rauner said.
Roeser was founder and chairman of the Family Taxpayers Foundation, which advocated reform of the public education system through free market principles, such as school choice and school vouchers, as well as flexible education options that address the needs of each individual student.
State Rep. David McSweeney, of Barrington Hills, said Roeser's role as a highly successful businessman gave credence to the lower-taxes message that was at the heart of his political activism.
"Otto Engineering, the great company that he built, is in my district," McSweeney said. "Its role in creating a lot of jobs should be counted toward his legacy."
McSweeney added that all of Illinois benefitted from Roeser's activism.
"Politically, he was one of the great Republican leaders in the state," McSweeney said. "If Jack Roeser hadn't been involved, taxes would be even higher and Illinois would be in even worse shape."
Closer to home, Roeser was a founder of the Rotary Club of Dundee Township, chartered in 1980. He attended meetings when he could and contributed to club scholarships.
"His main concern with the club was that we give scholarships and ... that we do a lot for the community," said Tom Anderson, the club's foundation chairman.
State Sen. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington said people don't generally know about Roeser's work with immigrants who worked for Otto Engineering -- providing them English and computer skills, and buying more than 50 homes in the area and leasing them back to families at a low cost.
"He really made a commitment to Carpentersville and wanted to turn the town around," Duffy said.
Carpentersville Village President Ed Ritter said he respects Roeser for locating Otto Engineering in a part of the village many considered a wasteland.
The property surrounding the company was overrun with weeds, old train rails and a swamp. Roeser's improvements turned it into a place full of energy and creativity, Ritter said.
"He was a first-class entrepreneur that knew how to take something that wasn't very good and make it very good," Ritter said.
"There are too many things that he's done to try to remember them all, but his impact is indelible on the village."
According to biographical information on the foundation website, Roeser created three other successful businesses now owned by large corporations.
In 1991, he was named "High-tech Entrepreneur of the Year" in Illinois and was chosen as an Outstanding Alumnus by the University of Illinois in 1996.
Roeser held more than 50 patents for electrical, mechanical, machinery and marine products. He was working on two patents just before his death -- one for a compact internal combustion engine and the other for a simplified toilet flushing mechanism, Tom Roeser said.
Roeser enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and served in the Combat Engineers in the South Pacific.
Once back home, he used $5,000 to start Otto Engineering in Morton Grove, before moving it to Carpentersville in 1968.
Otto Engineering today operates on a renovated campus on both sides of the Fox River and is the biggest employer in the village.
Roeser, the youngest of five children, named the company after his father, Otto.
His wake is scheduled from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday at Otto Engineering, 100 S. Lincoln Avenue, in Carpentersville.
His funeral will be held 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. Catherine of Siena Church, 845 W. Main St., in West Dundee.