Robert W. Strube, food philanthropist, dies at 91
March 5, 2010
Robert W. Strube.

By Mark J. Valentino

Robert W. Strube Sr., who had a passion for the produce industry and carried that through into a mission of serving the less fortunate, died on Jan. 14 at the age of 91.

Mr. Strube’s introduction into the produce business was through his father, Frederick, who established Strube Celery & Vegetable Co. in 1913 in the heart of Chicago’s original produce market located on Water Street in the Loop. Frederick Strube relocated his business to the South Water Market in 1925, where it became a mainstay until 2002, when Strube Celery & Vegetable Co. left the area with a number of other businesses for Chicago International Produce market on south Walcott Street.

Today, Strube Celery & Vegetable Co. still is family-owned and operated with son Robert “Bob” Jr., and daughter Janet Fleming, at the helm. The company employes some 80 workers.

Mr. Strube served in the U.S. Army after graduating from Lake View High School. Upon his discharge, he took over Strube Celery and Vegetable from his father in 1946. Over the next several decades, Mr. Strube solidified his position as a national expert in the produce industry. He was honored by The Packer magazine as its “Produce Man of the Year” in 1979.

That same year, according to Jim Prevor of Perishable Pundit magazine, Mr. Strube donated warehouse space for the fledgling Greater Chicago Food Depository. Mr. Strube was a founding member of the organization, and as far back as 1968 was thinking of ways to create a food distribution system for the needy.

According to his daughter, Janet Fleming, “my father was inspired by the work of singer/songwriter Harry Chapin, who during his concerts would make appeals for his audience to help feed the needy. Dad heard that message loud and clear and decided he needed to make a difference.”

Mr. Strube became well acquainted with Mr. Chapin and his work with the “World Hunger Year” initiative in New York City and carried some of those ideas back to Chicago.

Joining Mr. Strube in founding the Greater Chicago Food Depository were Ann Connors, Rev. Philip Marquard, Tom O’Connnell, Gertrude Snodgrass, and Ed Sunshine. According to Mr. Prevor, they came together in the basement of a Loop church and modeled the depository after St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. AZ.

In its first year of operation, the Greater Chicago Food Depository gave away more than 470,000 pounds of food. Over the past 30 years, the organization has distributed more than 750 million pounds of food. Mr. Strube became the first inductee into the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Hall of Fame in 2006.

“Even as we feel this great loss, we remember the extraordinary person that defined Bob,” said Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “That passion led him 30 years ago to establish a food bank in one of the stalls of his produce company at the South Water Market. Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans have benefited since then because of Bob’s vision.”

In 1972, Mr. Strube began broadcasting the “Produce Report” on WBBM-AM News Radio in Chicago. During his segments, Mr. Strube would offer his expertise on all things related to fruits and vegetables, including the best crops of each season. He also authored a weekly food column for the Chicago Sun-Times that was syndicated to more than 50 metropolitan newspapers throughout the United States. Mr. Strube credited his wife of 69 years, Helen, for her efforts to help research his columns and prepare his radio scripts.

In 1975, Mr. Strube rallied his colleagues in the produce industry to launch a nationwide public awareness campaign toting the benefits of leafy vegetables.

According to Ray Clark, executive director of the Leafy Green Council of St. Paul, MN, Mr. Strube’s efforts lead to the formation of the National Spinach Council. Mr. Strube served as president of the council until 1993 and continued as its chairman of the board for several additional years.

Mr. Strube also wrote more than 200 columns for Produce Business magazine. Upon his retirement in 2002, he said farewell in a final column that gave eight basic values to live by in the produce industry and as an honest person. Among those were: “That you have to believe in something — for me it is God and my family; fresh fruits and vegetables are the most beneficial food we can eat; that we should promote the family business because it is the core of our economic welfare; and for everything there is a season — you must rely on other people to celebrate and to survive them.”

Mr. Strube was the husband of Helen M. Strube; father of Robert (Susan) Strube, Jr. and Janet (Timothy) Fleming; grandfather of Robert Strube III, Kirsten Lodarek, Timothy Fleming Jr., Christian Fleming, Jon Strube, and Suzanne Trott; great-grandfather to 15; and brother of the late Florentine Strube.

Memorials may be made to the Bob and Helen Strube Freedom from Hunger Fund, c/o Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Pl., Chicago, IL 60632 or the North Shore United Methodist Church.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.