(UPDATED COVERAGE 4:30 p.m. Jan. 15) Bob Strube Sr., a produce industry legend who helped found the Greater Chicago Food Depository, died Jan. 14. He was 91.

Strube, who received The Packer’s Produce Man of the Year Award in 1979, was part of the family that founded Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., Chicago, in 1913, the oldest Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act licensee in the Chicago-area.

The company is still owned and managed by the founding family. Strube’s daughter Jan and son-in-law Tim Fleming Sr. were also recognized with The Packer’s award in 2002. Strube was also a past leader at the United Fresh Produce Association.

“The industry truly lost a giant today,” United Fresh President Tom Stenzel said in a release to the group’s members. “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.”

In 1978, Strube helped found the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a nonprofit food distribution and training center that serves 500,000 adults and children annually through a network of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, according to the United Fresh release.

The depository distributes 58 million pounds of food, including more than 10 million pounds of produce, to 600 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

He became the first inductee to the depository’s Hall of Fame in 2006.

“Even as we feel this loss, we remember the extraordinary passion that defined Bob,” said Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans have benefited … because of Bob’s vision.”

Strube Sr. died at his Glencoe home in Chicago’s north suburbs, said Lisa Strube, a granddaughter-in-law.

Strube Celery & Vegetable, launched by his parents, Fred and Lillian Strube, on Chicago’s south side, initially bought root crops such as carrots, parsnips and turnips from local growers. The company also shipped raw celery in from Michigan, stripped off the leaves for use in soup then repacked the stalks.

The company now has about 80 employees and sells fresh produce to grocery chains and independent food retailers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

After volunteering for the U.S. Army during World War II, Strube Sr. returned to Chicago in 1946 to take over the family business, his son Bob Strube Jr. said. While Strube Sr. primarily served as a typist at bases in Florida and Georgia, he also guarded German prisoners of war, BobStrube Jr. said.

Bob Strube Jr., 67, chairman of the family company, recalled his father as a tireless, financially conservative workaholic who often arrived at the business by 4 a.m. and toiled seven days a week. He’d also put family to work at a young age, starting his son at $1 a day.

“I was down here at age 12 cleaning offices,” Bob Strube Jr. said. “He always said work is a blessing.”

Roger Jones, who formerly ran Rupert, Idaho-based Rolland Jones Potatoes, said Strube Sr. was a big customer of his, and remembered Strube Sr. as an astute, fair and honest businessman.
"When you're shipping fresh produce halfway across the country, you need to have someone on the receiving end who knows what they're doing," Jones said. "He took care of the customers on one end and took care of the growers on the other end. Guys like that you can't replace."

Strube Sr. was also an ardent anti-hunger activist, donating warehouse space to help get the Greater Chicago Food Depository off the ground. In its first year of operation, the depository distributed 471,000 pounds of food from 22 donors to 85 agencies, according to the organization’s Web site.

“One of his goals was to end hunger in the U.S. by 2000,” Bob Strube Jr. said. “You can’t say hunger has been eliminated, but he’s made progress, and it’s been carried on by other people.”

“It was a grass-roots movement he helped establish,” Bob Strube Jr. said. “He lived his life to eliminate hunger. He made sure surplus produce got into the right channels so it never went to waste.”

Besides his son and daughter, he is survived by six grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

The Strube family plans visitation services from 3 to 8 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Donnellan Family Funeral Home in Skokie, Ill. A funeral service is scheduled for 1 p.m. at North Shore United Methodist Church in Glencoe, followed by burial in Memorial Park Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Bob and Helen Strube Freedom from Hunger Fund, in care of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Place, Chicago, 60632, or the North Shore United Methodist Church, according to the Strube family.

Staff writer Dawn Withers contributed to this article.

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UPDATED: Chicago produce leader Bob Strube Sr. dies