The published notice was simple:
ROBERT WILLIAM STRUBE Sr.
Robert William Frederick Strube, Sr., age 91, beloved husband of 69 years to Helen M. Strube; loving father of Robert (Susan) Strube, Jr. and Janet (Timothy) Fleming; dear grandfather of Robert Strube III, Kirsten Lodarek, Timothy Fleming, Jr., Christian Fleming, Jon Strube and Suzanne Trott; great-grandfather to 15; brother of the late Florentine Strube.
And accolades were just starting to come in:
Mr. Strube was one of the most kindest, honest and straightforward individuals that I have ever met in the produce industry. Mr. Strube taught everyone around him who wanted to learn what was the right way to conduct business.
I am a very fortunate person to have known him throughout the previous years, and always had the upmost respect for this man.
Our deepest regrets to the Strube Family at this time.
— Joe Mercurio and Teri Trost, Columbus, Ohio
Bob and the entire Strube family have been very special to our family for many years. Bob was a unique produce man of outstanding integrity. Our prayers are for the family as they go through this difficult time.
— Wayne Brandt, Reedley, California
The industry truly lost a giant today. Bob’s can-do, never-give-up attitude helped build both a family and a company that reflect the very best values of our produce industry.
He let it be known that he lived by several mottos — “Work is a blessing,” and the self-reliant creed “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
— Tom Stenzel
United Fresh Produce Association
Since my first day on the market, I have been working with the Strube family and I can honestly say it was the only work environment where my brother & I have felt like we belonged. Strube quickly became a huge part of my life & I still feel like I am part of something great. Not many people know but Mr. Strube helped me start my business & mentored me in many ways. The 20 years I have been involved have been proud years for me & I hope for many more with the great family I am proud to be part of. If I could accomplish a 20th of the great things Mr. Strube has accomplished, I would be proud. I am very sad to see a great man leave us but I must add that he has raised a great family that I enjoy being around and have no doubt in my mind they will keep adding to what was started many years ago. It has been my pleasure to be around such a great man.
— Walter Schroeder
From the moment I entered the produce industry, Bob always had time to teach me with enthusiasm and honesty.
He will be missed greatly. My prayers go out to the entire family.
— Eric Nieman
Highland Park, Illinois
I have many fond memories of a great friend and man who taught me many things and gave me hours of friendship on the market. He always had my respect Please accept my deepest regrets at your time of sorrow.
— Charles Ranzino
The food depository he helped found issued a salute to the man and his leadership:
‘Food is real energy’
Food Depository founder Bob Strube leaves a legacy of service
For years, Bob Strube searched for a way to take unused produce from the South Water Market and distribute it efficiently to hungry people.
“The poor would go and follow the garbage wagon [at the market] and pick food out,” Mr. Strube said.
Mr. Strube eventually found an outlet for food that otherwise may have gone to waste. In 1979, he came together with five other individuals to start the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Mr. Strube died at the age of 91 on Jan. 14.
In 1979, Mr. Strube donated warehouse space for the fledgling Food Depository at the historic South Water Market on the Near West Side. Mr. Strube, then president of Strube Celery & Vegetable Company, had been active in hunger-relief causes for many years.
“Food is real energy,” Mr. Strube said in 1979. “You need the right kinds of food in the right quantities just to have the energy to get up and go to work.”
The forerunner to the Food Depository was a food cooperative called Feed the Hungry, Inc. that distributed excess produce to low-income individuals for a nominal fee. The co-op, founded in 1970, included more than 20 pickup locations at churches and community centers. Mr. Strube had sketched out ideas for a distribution system as early as 1968.
“You might have your house all paid for, but you still have your taxes,” Mr. Strube said in 1979. “And you’ve got your heat and your electricity and your water bill. You have all these bills to pay and they’re all higher and they have to be paid. The only thing you can cut back on is food.”
The six Food Depository founders — Ann Connors, Father Philip Marquard, Tom O’Connell, Gertrude Snodgrass, Ed Sunshine and Mr. Strube — came together in the basement of a Loop church to discuss the creation of a food bank modeled after St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. The Food Depository distributed 471,000 pounds in its first year and has distributed more than 750 million pounds of food in its history.
“The only thing that makes any difference at all, while you and I are here in this town, is what you and I do in this town,” Mr. Strube wrote in 1979. “We make the difference while we’re here. The issue is today — what you or I do today that makes a difference in this world. You have to give.”
As for this Pundit, Bob Strube was instrumental in the launch of Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS. He was a founding member of our editorial advisory board and a constant source of education and inspiration. He more than once introduced us to long time shippers of his and urged them to support our then-fledgling enterprise. They typically listened.
Bob wrote over 200 columns for PRODUCE BUSINESS and they were filled with a practical wisdom and generosity of spirit. He had rules that had served his business well — like not paying the family if losses went on too long — talk about a motivational program! He was also markedly prescient. Read this piece, titled “Credit Old Values, Not New Cards,” and you can see him warning of the dangers of excessive credit back in 1995.
Due to ill health, Bob asked to suspend his column back in June of 2002; the title of the piece was “For Everything There Is A Season,” and after quoting Ecclesiastes, Bob laid out his eight basic values:
I am 83 years old. I have lived many seasons and I have experienced all the seasons.
I have been able to experience the seasons of the world, the seasons of the produce industry, the seasons of a family, and the seasons of a business that my father started.
I have been fortunate to watch as four generations of my family worked together to build a business that could adapt and withstand the changes of the seasons. I have been fortunate to watch my industry associates in all segments of the business do the same throughout the country. I have been fortunate that I have been able to meet with my industry associates to discuss and debate the changes of the seasons and to develop resolutions that would address the changes of the seasons. I have been fortunate to be considered a leader in our industry and that my experiences and ability to adjust to the seasons has helped others to adapt their personal lives and businesses to the changes of the seasons.
Now it is time for me to allow someone else to discuss the changes of the seasons with you. This will be my last article for PRODUCE BUSINESS. I do want to leave you with some basic values that I have used to help me adjust to the seasons.
1. You must believe in something. For me it is my God and my family.
2. That fresh fruits and vegetables are the most beneficial food that we can eat.
3. The fresh fruit and vegetable industry is the greatest industry in the world.
4. That we should protect and propagate all the segments of the industry from the seed to the fork.
5. That we need to maintain and support those places where we can meet to discuss and debate the seasons of our industry. For me it was the local and national produce associations.
6. That we can grow enough food to feed the hungry and until we develop the distribution system to achieve that we should not rest.
7. That we should work to promote the family business because it is the core of our economic welfare.
8. For Everything There is a Season. You must rely on other people to celebrate and to survive them.
To my family, friends and industry associates, I wish you peace.
Now, passing at 91, we reciprocate the wish for this industry leader, family patriarch, humanitarian and good friend.
To those who would like to do something in Bob’s memory, the family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorials be directed to the North Shore United Methodist Church or:
The Bob and Helen Strube Freedom from Hunger Fund
c/o Greater Chicago Food Depository
4100 W. Ann Lurie Place
Chicago, Illinois 60632
As for us here at the Pundit and PRODUCE BUSINESS, our gift will be different. Much of Bob’s work was done in a pre-digital age. We are going to re-keystroke all his writing for us and make his oeuvre available on our website for the benefit of this industry and our posterity.
Deepest condolences to the family and associates at Strube Celery & Vegetable Company.