‘Bill never forgot where he came from’
William “Bill” Bolker, 79, a builder, developer and real estate broker for 55 years in the Lincoln-Way and Will County area, and who will be remembered for shaping the face of New Lenox, died Feb. 25.
Bolker grew up in New Lenox and graduated from Lincoln-Way High School in 1956. Shortly thereafter, he served a six-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He later settled in New Lenox to raise a family with his wife, Claudia.
Bill’s daughter, Bev Judge, of New Lenox, said he had a great vision for shaping the Village of New Lenox. He grew up in New Lenox. His whole life was on Vine Street.
Judge said Bolker believed in the value of putting in hard work.
“He loved his work,” Judge recalled. “He only stopped because of health. He was subdividing. He would’ve done more. He loved building and developing.”
Bolker held a number of jobs and positions of leadership over the course of his career. These business experiences included top posts working for Lincoln-Way Builders, Bolker Realty Company, Lincoln-Way Partners and Lincoln-Way Trucking Company.
Judge said in addition to being well loved by family, Bolker was well respected and well regarded in the community for his work. The resume he had built proves that, she said.
Among some of the projects Bolker built include Country Creek, a 300-acre multi-use development in New Lenox, the village shopping center at Cedar and Francis Roads, and Country Lanes Bowling Center on Laraway Road, now known as Laraway Lanes.
Bolker also built approximately 200 ranch-style townhomes in New Lenox, with another 100 and 200-plus similar developments constructed in Elwood and Frankfort, respectively.
Judge said the positive mark he left on the community is highly evident in the development of these family-friendly subdivisions with quality construction. That’s what sets him apart form other builders, she said.
Man of values
Judge said Bolker always put family first.
“Papa always showed up for the big events,” Judge said. “He was always there, or if he couldn’t be there, he’d call. He really cared about the details of our lives.”
Judge remembers Bolker as being the glue that held her family together, and said it’s a memory she hopes to hold onto forever. The generosity and kindness her father exuded is not only felt between she and her immediate family but also in the community they live, Judge added.
In 2004, the Bolkers donated the Performing Arts Pavilion to the Village of New Lenox.
“He and my mom built that as a gift,” Judge said. “It was supposed to be anonymous. The word got out in the village, and it is now public knowledge.”
Today, it’s used for various community events.
“It was important to him that he donate it in honor of police and fire and military professionals with thanks to their services,” Judge said.
Ray Tuminello, a Will County Board member and formerly a New Village Board trustee, recalled the day the pavilion was unveiled.
“When Mayor [Mike] Smith and the trustees unveiled the plaque with their names, I remember how proud he looked,” he said. “Who knew that 12 years later we’d use the pavilion so much to bring the community together?”
Tuminello remembers working with Bolker over the years to advance his plans for a number of developments within village limits. The projects he completed in the community are well regarded, he said.
“He had good work,” Tuminello said. “His customers liked him. As a trustee, I hear good and bad things about developments. He rarely, if ever, had negative feedback.”
Tuminello said that pavilion is the epitome of what the Bolkers stand for.
“I would hope he’s remembered for his kindness and generosity,” he said. “Bill never forgot where he came from. His generosity and kindness will go on for decades to come.”
Gary Orler, of Hinsdale, said he will always remember his friend Bill for “his competitiveness and the fact he built so many houses,” he said. “He was a business man. I can’t tell you how many he built, but if they didn’t know him by name, they knew his work.”
Orler said he spoke with his friend three to four days before he passed away.
“We talked about politics and all the great times we had together,” he said. “We talked about the good old times.”
Orler recalls all the traveling he and their families did together, and said it was clear that Bolker was a family man.
“He was very dedicated to his wife, girls and grandkids,” Orler said. “His grandkids are above-average athletes. He went to all the games he could attend.”
“It was 18 months worth of complications due to diabetes and heart disease,” Judge said. “He had a leg amputated about a year ago. Individually it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but all together [it was difficult to manage]. He never complained. He had a phenomenal attitude always. He planned on traveling to Florida this winter. That kept his spirits up.”
Judge said she and her family knew their time with Bolker was coming to an end and said they had time to say their goodbyes to him.
Judge recalled hearing Bill say he was not afraid to die and had put his faith in Jesus two weeks before dying.
“He said he had no regrets,” Judge said. “He had lived a full life doing what he loved—building and developing—and had a family that loved him and that he was so proud of. His final advice to his grandkids was to always treat people the way they would like to be treated and to live a good Christian life.”
Bolker is survived by his wife Claudia; his daughters, Bev Judge, Kim Davern and Michelle O’Neill; his grandchildren, Alexandra Guthrie, Morgan Hoogland, Olivia Judge, Cailey, Jack and Lauren Davern and Connor, Billy, Brock, and Eli O'Neill.