James J. "Jim" Roepke of Waukesha died Friday, March 11, 2011, at AngelsGrace Hospice in Oconomowoc at the age of 85. Jim was born July 6, 1925, in Kenosha. He lived with his parents, Julius and Ida Roepke, and older sister, Lois. As a child growing up during the depression, Jim remembered WPA overalls and riding his bike to deliver rolls baked by his mother. He liked to say, "I guess we were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor."
Jim was active in Boy Scouts, earning the Order of the Arrow and also serving as Scoutmaster for his troop. Jim also worked at Camp Oh-Da-Ko-Ta in Kenosha County, including time as director. Jim graduated from Bradford High School and served overseas in the U.S. Army during World War II. He kept every letter written to him by his future wife, Lois Wendorf.
Jim and Lois were married in 1949. They lived in Madison while he finished his undergraduate degree in social work. Jim was able to start his education overseas at the end of the war, an opportunity Jim was very grateful for. Jim and Lois moved to Waukesha, where Jim found work as a caseworker in what was then the Department of Public Welfare. In 1952, Jim became the youngest director of public welfare in the history of the state. Under Jim’s tenure, Waukesha became the first county in the state to qualify its Child Guidance Clinic for state reimbursement as a related welfare service. While living in Waukesha, Jim and Lois became parents to Mary, Susan and Tom.
In 1964, Jim accepted an offer from Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan to become the director of Martin Luther Homes in Stoughton. In 1966, the family returned to Waukesha while he worked as an administrator for Lutheran Social Services in the Milwaukee office. One of Jim’s many high points during his long career was attending the White House Conference on Children in 1970. Jim left Lutheran Social Services in 1982 and worked as a consultant until he was hired as the director of the Department of Aging for Waukesha County. Jim retired from service to Waukesha County in 1989.
Jim was a proud member of the Waukesha Noon Lions club for more than 50 years. He was a past president of the club and was awarded two of Lion’s highest honors when he was named a Burch-Sturm Fellow in 1992 and a Melvin Jones Fellow in 1994. Jim was very involved with ticket sales for the yearly chicken barbecue, with his sales topping 100 tickets in his best years. Jim developed many enduring relationships with his fellow Lions, who continued to be a strong presence in his life. Jim was also active in local politics, and kept current with local, county and state candidates. He never missed an election.
Jim had a lifelong love for antique cars. A number of cars found their way to the Roepke garage, where they were lovingly restored by Jim. His children enjoyed many "running board" rides up the driveway, and a ride in one of the "rumble seats" was always a treat. Sue and Tom remember how Jim worked a trip to Salt Lake City into the family’s western vacation because he had a lead on a steering wheel for his old Pierce Arrow. Jim was a charter member of the Waukesha Olde Car Club and also belonged to the Nash Car Club of America. Jim also loved tending to his vegetable garden and sharing his bumper crops with family and friends.
Jim centered his life on family. He regularly drove the family to Kenosha for visits and holiday celebrations. Many summer vacations began with car trips to experience some of the country’s important sites. Jim also loved taking his family camping in a homemade camper. On these trips, Jim made up humorous stories and shared anecdotes from his past. Jim led rousing renditions of familiar songs and some that were lesser known but were an important part of the Roepke tradition.
Jim is survived by a son, Tom in New York; daughter, Susan (Oliver) Perry of Madison; and his grandchildren, Tyson and Tom Toepfer and John and Erica Perry. He is also survived by a nephew, Bill (Peggy) Bader of Florida, and a niece, Pat Hendricks of Kenosha.
Jim was preceded in death by his wife, Lois; daughter, Mary Toepfer; and twin granddaughters, Laura and Joan Perry. He was also preceded in death by his sister, Lois Bader Stein.
The Rev. David Zandt will preside. Graveside services will be held privately at Prairie Home Cemetery in Waukesha.