Mitchler remembered as father, grandpa, friend, public servant
By Erika Wurst email@example.com April 27, 2012 4:38PM
Color guard Kyle Salterjial salutes along with members of former Sen. Robert Mitchler's Fox Valley Veteran's Breakfast Club as they honor him during visitation at Nelson Funeral Home in Yorkville on Friday, April 27, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 30, 2012 8:06AM
The late Bob Mitchler meant a lot of things to lot of people, and at his visitation and funeral in Yorkville this weekend, that fact was obvious.
On Friday, dozens of people stood in line at the Larson-Nelson Funeral Home to pay their respects to the former senator and proud veteran who died at his Oswego home on April 19, at the age of 91.
Family members said Mitchler maintained his sense of humor up until his dying day, talking about how death would be “a once in a lifetime experience.”
“He wasn’t afraid, he just kept saying that,” daughter Heidi Lyjak shared with the audience. “I think he said that because he ran the good race, and fought the good fight. He wasn’t afraid, and that is something that will always stick with me.”
A meticulous man, Bob Mitchler planned even his own funeral, right down to the hymn that was sung, and the poems that were read.
“As Senator Bob would say, you can’t go wrong if you start out with ‘The Stars and Stripes,’” said Kenneth Olson, who officiated the service. So, as the military music buzzed in the background, and nearly a hundred people wiped tears from the corners of their eyes, it seemed clear that the former Senator — even in death — still had his hands in things.
“As you know, dad liked to plan events,” said son John Mitchler. “ And this is one of them.”
Olson said that his good friend Bob dictated to him exactly how he wanted his funeral service to go.
“I will certainly try to live up to his expectations,” Olson said, and he appeared to do just that.
Throughout the funeral home, photos of a young Mitchler show him graduating college, in his Navy uniform, and then surrounded by family. While the public knew him as an active advocate for veterans, or a powerful politician, Mitchler’s grandchildren simply remember him as grandpa carving the Thanksgiving turkey, lighting bonfires and overflowing with support for their every endeavor.
“He was a wonderful spouse, father and grandfather,” said son-in-law Daniel Lyjak, whose children stood solemnly by his side.
Tears welled up in the eyes of 12-year-old Natalie Lyjak as she spoke about her grandfather. She hugged her dad and gained her composure before quietly speaking.
“Every day was a blessing to have him in my life,” she said,—and her siblings agreed.
Brother Joe, 15, remembers his grandpa as a Cubs fan, and smiled as he reminisced about their baseball chats. Natalie recalled riding a John Deere tractor with her grandfather around his beloved Oswego property.
“Talk about someone with personality,” granddaughter Briana Lyjak, 22, said about Mitchler. ”He lived an amazing life, and I’m happy to be able to celebrate that.”
As he viewed the slide show showing his grandfather as a young man, and then a military man, and a family man, Joe Lyjak smiled.
“It’s just really great to see that he had a wonderful life,” he said. “He had so much joy.”
Some knew him a father, or a grandfather, or a great friend, but only one person knew him as the adoring husband he was. For 61 years, Bob and Helen Mitchler had been united in marriage.
“All of you knew him in different ways,” John Mitchler said. “But if you put together all of our memories, you will get a pretty complete picture.”
At 36, Bob Mitchler became a father. At 74, he climbed his first mountain, and at 91 he was still on board as son John’s canoe race partner.
“I’ve never in my life met somebody with so much fascination with opportunity,” said daughter Heidi Lyjak. Living in America made her father not only proud, but also positive that with a little hard work, anyone could become anything.
Heidi Lyjak and her brother had both wanted to recite their father’s favorite poem, “A Bag of Tools,” but meticulous Mitchler had thought of that, and had Olson beat the siblings to the punch.
“Isn’t it strange how princes and kings, and clowns that caper in sawdust rings, and common people, like you and me, are builders for eternity? Each is given a list of rules; a shapeless mass; a bag of tools. And each must fashion, ere life is flown, A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.”
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common people, like you and me,
are builders for eternity?
Each is given a list of rules;
a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.
And each must fashion, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.”
To anyone who knew Bob Mitchler, it was obvious why the two stanzas were ones he held so near and dear.
“Senator Bob’s aim is life was to always build stepping stones to achieve his goals,” Olson said, and he reached that final one last week when he entered Heaven.
“He was a true and loyal friend,” Olson said.
On Saturday, Mitchler was buried at Spring Lake Cemetery in Aurora.
Memorials in Mitchler’s name may be directed to either the Aurora University Nurses Scholarship Fund or the Senator Robert W. and Helen Drew Mitchler Scholarship Fund in care of the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley, 111 W. Downer Place, Suite 312, Aurora, IL 60506.