Former Illinois state senator and U.S. Navy World War II and Korean War veteran Robert Mitchler died Thursday at his rural Oswego home. He was 91.
Mitchler was born in 1920 in Aurora, graduated from East Aurora High School and worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1941. He went on to serve in the Pacific theater during World War II and again during the Korean War, according to a history of Mitchler’s military service from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.
“Bob’s lifelong dedication was the military and veterans,” said long-time friend and fellow Navy veteran Len Wass of Oswego. “He loved the Navy and was instrumental in starting the Aurora Council of the Navy League organization. He was truly an inspiration to so many.”
Mitchler went on to serve as National Director of the Navy League in 1982. In 1993 he was elected National Director Emeritus of the Navy League. Wass said Mitchler was also the "driving force" behind establishing the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps unit at East Aurora High School.
"(The unit) has grown in the 16 years from scratch to where they expect close to 1,000 students to be enrolled in that program next year," Wass said. "That program has diverted numerous youth from moving in the wrong direction such as gangs, to a culture of discipline, order, ethics, morality and future success in life. It is a jewel of our community."
Wass said he last saw Mitchler in March and he appeared frail. Though hospice care had been called to the Mitchler’s Route 34 home in recent days, Wass said he had still been getting emails from Mitchler up until a few weeks ago.
“He had been telling people that he had a good life and that he was at peace,” he said. “He was ready to go.”
Mitchler was active in the Kendall County Republican Party for decades, according to a statement released by Party Chairman Ken Toftoy. He represented the area in the State Senate from 1964 to 1981 and served as Legislative Liaison with the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs through July 1991.
Mitcher also served on the Kendall County Republican Central Committee as a past member of its Executive Committee and as a precinct committeeman for more than 50 years in Bristol Township. "Senator Bob," as he was known to many, called himself a Young Republican for 54 years, said Scott Gryder, chairman of the Kendall County Young Republicans.
"He was a beacon for a lot of Young Republicans as he would always take the time to chat with any fresh face to get to know them and help them become young leaders," Gryder said. "He frequently would offer up suggestions and advice on not only how to best move our organization forward, but he provided an example of how we as individuals should carry ourselves forward as well."
State Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-25th District, said he considers Mitchler a mentor. He said he first met Mitchler in 1967 during the American Legion Oratorical contest when he was in the ninth grade.
"I got creamed by the competition," Lauzen said. "But Bob was just so nice to all the contestants, and it wasn't about who won and lost to him. By the end, it didn't matter to me that I had lost because all I could think about was Bob and how he treated us."
Lauzen, who was first elected to the state senate in 1992, said watching Mitchler's political career provided him with inspiration.
"Here's a man for whom public service was about a generosity of spirit," he said. "He wasn't trying to enrich him or his friends. To him, public service was about doing what was right for his constituents. It was a privilege for him serve the people of the community."
Lauzen said he plans to draft and introduce a resolution honoring Mitchler in Springfield and will eulogize him on the floor of the state Senate.
Mitchler is survived by his three children and wife, Helen, with whom he established the Senator Robert W. & Helen Drew Mitchler Scholarship Endowment Fund in 2007.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Check Patch later for details.