When Winnebago County Aviation Committee Chairman Bob Warnke says, “I like to stay busy,” believe him.
Elected to the County Board in 2004, Warnke has been a member of the aviation committee for four years, was named its chairman about a year ago. A year before joining the committee, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
For a class he researched airport economic impact and planning. Warnke (at right, with Airport Director Peter Moll and Airport Operations Manager Chris Hallstrand) started with the professional publications at the Wittman Regional Airport.
In 2013, now 71, he graduated magna cum laude, earning his bachelor of applied science in organizational administration and leadership. At about the same time the latest Wittman economic impact study revealed that the airport supports a total of 855 jobs and $35.6 million in wages.
Warnke started his college career in the 1960s at the predecessor of Fox Valley Tech. In 1965 he was drafted one class shy of his associate’s degree in marketing. A disbursing clerk or paymaster with a U.S. Navy destroyer squadron in San Diego, he finished that degree at sea, working long distance with its professor at the tech school.
A bit more than a year after his 1967 discharge, Warnke met his wife of 44 years, Beth, started a family, and went to work at Leach as the company driver. “I was only going to stay a year,” he says, but he retired at 37 years because it was an interesting job that ranged from picking up customers in Chicago to delivering parts to Wittman’s air freight operators.
The airport was “a busy, busy place then,” but it is still an important and contributing member of the country since the airlines left in 2003, he says, referring again to the latest economic impact study as proof, adding that this report does not include the economic impact provided by EAA AirVenture.
Working at Leach also provided the stability to raise a family and pursue his other interests. His three children all graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His daughter is a physician’s assistant in Oshkosh, one son works at a Fox Valley care center, and his other son returns home in February after four years of teaching English in South Korea to start his master’s degree.
Shortly after getting married, the Warnkes bought houses, fixed them up, and later sold them. “I was a realtor for 15 years,” he explains, part time at first, and then full time with the Premier Group after he retired from Leach. He enrolled at UWO when the housing market imploded because he had the time to act on something he’d always wanted to do.
“It wasn’t easy, but I only took a couple of classes per semester, and I had the help of my family,” he says. The rest of this time was committed to the aviation committee and the others on which he serves. That includes chairmanship of the Veterans Service Committee, the Highway Committee, and several others.
Oh, and then there is the family’s three-cottage resort in Door County, which is transitioning to the third generation. Or fourth, if one considers the Warnkes’ three grandchildren. In the end, he says, “We really don’t like to sit around.”