‘He truly cared about people’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com May 19, 2013 8:40PM
Yunker | Supplied photo
Updated: June 21, 2013 6:15AM
Del Yunker was more than Mokena’s first fire chief. Those who knew him well said he was an “iconic” figure in town, an excellent leader and mentor, a man of integrity with a heart of gold, and also the “sausage guy” at the pancake breakfast.
Mr. Yunker, a lifelong resident of Mokena, died at home May 13. He was 72.
He was also a Lincoln-Way High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran who worked with his father at Clyde Yunker Plumbing for 23 years before becoming fire chief.
He joined the fire department in 1964 and served as chief from 1979 to 1991.
“I absolutely learned everything from him ... how to be a fireman, an officer and a leader,” said former fire Chief Ted Golden, now retired, who worked very closely with Yunker in the 1980s, when they were the only two full-timers in the fire department.
Mr. Yunker led the department as it evolved and expanded from an all-volunteer squad to one with paid staff.
While there are only a handful of current firefighters who worked with Mr. Yunker, all the young guys know him well, too, many said, because even in retirement, he always stopped by.
After Golden succeeded him as chief, he started the Delbert Yunker award, which was given annually to the firefighter of the year. If Yunker was available, he would hand it out personally, Golden said.
“I was quite stunned when I heard about his death. He is definitely going to be missed,” Golden said.
“Everyone knew Del Yunker. He always had a smile on his face,” Lt. Tom Hug said. “The first word that comes to mind when I think about him is ‘integrity.’ There was not a more honest, straightforward man. His word was his bond.”
Mr. Yunker was also a father figure to Hug, who lived near the fire station and enjoyed hanging out there with Yunker and Golden.
“He looked out for his guys. You could go to him with your problems and he was always willing to talk to you. You could trust him,” he said.
“He truly cared about people. He was very well-respected. I couldn’t think of a better role model,” Hug said.
Golden and Hug were among the six firefighters who served as pallbearers for Mr. Yunker’s funeral service. Firefighters also did their traditional “walkthrough” during the visitation at Vandenberg Funeral Home.
Outside of the fire station, Mr. Yunker was very active in the Mokena Chamber of Commerce and Mokena Lions Club.
“He was very knowledgeable about the community,” village administrator John Downs said. “When I first came to Mokena in 1988, I went to him for advice many times. He was very helpful to me professionally.
“He was a fantastic human being. He was always willing to sit down and talk to me,” he said. “He was very bright and very perceptive.”
Current Fire Chief Howard Stephens worked under Chief Yunker for about one year before he retired.
“He really taught me what it was to be a fireman and what it was to give back to your community,” he said. “As a kid, I remember the firemen coming to the station when the siren went off. I knew they were protecting the community and that Del was leading them.”
Mr. Yunker is survived by his wife Joan, two daughters, Karen and Kimberly and two grandchildren.