ST. JOSEPH — B.J. Hackler liked to stay busy.
He belonged to the St. Joseph Tea-Totalers, a group of residents who meet in the afternoons for a glass of tea.
He volunteered for years with the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce.
He Served on committees at St. Joseph United Methodist Church.
He was a member of the St. Joseph American Legion.
He helped serve as a drainage district commissioner.
He traveled. He fished.
He visited friends in his “man cave” he built in his backyard.
He helped friends in their businesses.
And he liked to visit St. Joseph Village Hall, where he had served as mayor 36 years, and where his friendly face was a welcome sight to those who knew him so well.
“Chief would come by the office at least a couple of times a week to check in with us girls,” said Julie Hendrickson, the village’s officer manager.
After stopping by, Mr. Hackler would often take the staff to lunch.
“We would tell him often he didn’t need to buy our lunch,” Hendrickson said. “Just getting the opportunity to visit with him was enough for us.”
Mr. Hackler, who served as mayor of St. Joseph from 1981 until he retired in 2017, died last week at 83 after a battle with a short illness. A celebration of life will be held in his honor at 4 p.m. Sunday at the park named in his honor in St. Joseph.
Mr. Hackler’s successor as mayor, Tami Fruhling-Voges, said the loss is difficult for the tight-knit community to comprehend.
“B.J. has been such a big part of this community for so long,” Fruhling-Voges said. “It’s going to be really hard to even think about St. Joseph without expecting to see him somewhere about town.”
The amicable Mr. Hackler was always looking to the future, she said.
In 2004, he approached Fruhling-Voges about her serving on the village board. She said she wasn’t sure if she was qualified for the position.
“But B.J. and a close friend were very convincing that I would be a good fit and would enjoy the challenge,” she said. “It wasn’t long after serving on the board for a couple of years that I realized that B.J. had other plans for my future.”
Mr. Hackler appointed Fruhling-Voges mayor pro tem and started mentoring her for the position he had held for 30-plus years.
“It was always a pleasure attending functions with B.J. and amazing to watch him work the room,” said Fruhling-Voges. “It didn’t matter if we were here at home, Chicago or Springfield. Everyone seemed to know B.J.”
St. Joseph residents Luke and Marlo Fisher said Mr. Hackler was a dear friend who shared his love of fishing with their daughter, Hannah.
“When Hannah caught her first fish and really started liking fishing, there was no one more excited, other than her daddy, then B.J.,” Marlo said.
Mr. Hackler gave Hannah items to fill her tackle box and bought her a T-shirt that read “Daddy’s Fishing Buddy.”
“He wanted to go fishing with her and Luke sometime,” Marlo said. “Although we didn’t get that fishing date, we will forever think of B.J. every time we go fishing.”
Hendrickson said St. Joseph has Mr. Hackler to thank for its expansion and solid reputation in the state.
“I personally feel that St. Joseph is the community it is today because of the Chief,” she said. “He worked diligently for 36 years to help mold and shape this community.”