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Calvin Sutker, former state Dem chairman, Cook County commissioner, dies at 89

Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale(right) is greeted by Aid. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th)(left) CalvSutker state Democratic Party chair! man

Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale(right) is greeted by Aid. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th)(left) and Calvin Sutker, state Democratic Party chair! man, yesterday at Midway Airport.

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:23AM

Calvin Sutker devoted much of his adult life to politics — as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, Cook County commissioner, state representative, Skokie trustee — and for 33 years, the Niles Township Democratic committeeman.

But he spent his last decade speaking to community groups about his experience as a young soldier who witnessed firsthand the horror of the Dachau Nazi concentration camp in southern Germany.

“We were sickened at the ghastly spectacle of the depravity of the Nazi perpetrators,” Mr. Sutker said at a 2003 Kristallnacht observance marking the Nov. 9, 1938, night when Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses.

“He had never spoken publicly about it before that day,” said a daughter, Sharon McGowan.

A longtime Skokie resident, Mr. Sutker died Thursday morning, a few weeks before his 90th birthday, at Evanston Hospital.

Mr. Sutker met his late wife, Phyllis, when he delivered an order from his father’s Austin deli and grocery to her home — an event orchestrated by her mother.

The family moved to Skokie in 1958. Daughter Edie Sue Sutker, a Skokie trustee, recalled her father’s devotion to the community.

“He and mom were fixtures at restaurants like Barnum & Bagel and the Skokie Club,” she said.

He was instrumental in bringing the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, the 2nd District courthouse and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center to Skokie. In 2006, a Cook County Forest Preserve District grove across the street from the center was named for Mr. Sutker.

Mr. Sutker plunged into politics soon after the move to Skokie, looking for distraction after the death of his 5-year-old son, Edward, from a congenital heart defect.

He rose to become an influential suburban committeeman, wielding political power because of the large Democratic turnout his organization consistently generated.

Mr. Sutker held the committeeman post from 1973 to 2006; was a Skokie trustee from 1965 to 1969; a state lawmaker from 1985 to 1991, and a Cook County Board member from 1994 to 2002. Mr. Sutker lost Democratic primaries for Cook County clerk in 1990 and Cook County board president in 1998.

He steered the state party through a difficult period after the March 1986 primary when candidates backed by extremist Lyndon LaRouche won Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

Mr. Sutker received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

“He was a role model for me in every way,” said daughter Shelley Sutker-Dermer, presiding judge of Cook County Circuit Court’s 2nd District. “He was a brilliant lawyer known for his leadership and integrity.”

Mr. Sutker also was active in Jewish charitable causes; he was a staunch supporter of NA’AMAT USA.

“My father was the most generous person I’ve ever known,” said Mr. Sutker’s son, Allen. “He got great joy out of picking up tabs, giving away books and slipping his grandchildren $5 bills or $100 checks.”

Visitation will be at 12:45 p.m. and a funeral service at 2 p.m. Friday at Ezra-Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation, 4500 W. Dempster St., Skokie. Burial will be in Westlawn Cemetery, 7801 W. Montrose, in Norridge.

In addition to his children, survivors include eight grandchildren, a sister, Ada Rabinowitz and a brother, Irwin Sutker.

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