May 10, 2005
DeKalb benefactor Roberts dies
DeKALB - DeKalb's nonprofit organizations lost a
friend and benefactor Sunday with the death of Charlie Roberts, a local
philanthropist and former chairman of DeKalb Ag.
Roberts, 80, died at his DeKalb home after a recent illness. He and his
wife, Mary, supported a variety of causes, and in 1993 created the
DeKalb County Community Foundation to expand their benevolence.
"He was a gentleman with a great passion and compassion for this
community," said Jerry Smith, executive director of the foundation.
"He was truly thrilled with the way the community embraced the
The foundation works with donors to provide support and endowments to
DeKalb County nonprofit organizations. From the Roberts' initial $3
million, the foundation has grown to more than $17 million in total
assets. It has distributed more than $6 million to community
organizations over the last 12 years.
"He went out of his way to make sure it wasn't his
foundation," Smith said. "It wasn't the Roberts Foundation; it
was the DeKalb County Community Foundation."
Smith said Roberts, despite his poor health,
attended the foundation's annual meeting April 29. At the meeting,
Roberts received a standing ovation, which Smith said probably made
Roberts uncomfortable, as one of Roberts' defining characteristics was a
tendency to shy away from the spotlight.
"For much of the good work that Charlie and Mary did, only those
directly impacted by it will ever know about it," Smith said.
That sentiment was echoed by others who knew Roberts.
"They gave out of love, not for recognition," said Nancy
Vidlak, vice president of the Kishwaukee Health Foundation, the
fund-raising arm of KishHealth System. "He was a wonderful man with
a wonderful, giving heart."
That caring, self-effacing attitude won Roberts many friends, according
to local historian Steve Bigolin.
"That funeral home could very well be packed to
overflowing (on Wednesday)," he said. "If you talk to any of
the old-timers around DeKalb and mention the name Roberts, they'll talk
your ear off. And it's all positive. In all the years I've known him, I
don't think I've ever heard a negative word about the man."
Bigolin said he met Roberts in 1978 while raising funds to save the
Gurler House. Roberts was a supporter of preserving the area's history,
and also worked with the DeKalb County Farm Bureau on preservation
"Charlie was very instrumental and supportive of us in writing a
book about the history of the farm bureau," bureau Manager Doug
Dashner said. "He was strongly aware of the people who made
agriculture possible in this area and was very supportive of us."
Among the many organizations Roberts supported was St. Paul's Episcopal
Church. The Rev. Mark Geisler said Charlie and Mary Roberts have been
active members of the congregation since the early 1950s.
"He was a dear friend I will miss very much," Geisler said.
"He was a man of tremendous faith, and he practiced that faith
Roberts was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1924. After high school he joined
the U.S. Navy, in which he served from 1943 to 1946. In 1950, he married
Mary Roberts, whose family owned DeKalb Ag. He joined the company four
years later. Although he retired in 1994, he continued to serve as
chairman of the board until the company's sale to Monsanto in 1998.
Visitation for Roberts will be from 3-8 p.m. Wednesday at Anderson
Funeral Home, 2011 S. Fourth St. in DeKalb. The funeral service will be
held at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 900 Normal Road
The Roberts family has asked that mourners make donations to the DeKalb
County Community Foundation or St. Paul's Endowment Fund in lieu of