Bob Oehmen often said he lived to help his fellow servicemen and women. And after volunteering at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2791 for nearly 42 years, many would argue that he died doing just that.
Oehmen passed away Monday afternoon, nine days after his 89th birthday. He died of natural causes in his Tinley Park home surrounded by family, his children said this week. Some of his 11 kids—five are his, four are those of his wife, Charline, and two they had together—were found in the VFW bar Tuesday, "having a drink for dad."
They had just returned from solidifying burial arrangements at Vandenberg Funeral Home.
"He was a hell of a guy," his son, Mark Oehmen, 57, said, shaking his head and gazing off. "He was my very best friend. I'm sure going to miss him."
The group shared some of their "gazillion" memories of Bob. After all, who could forget his affinity for wearing flannel shirts and red suspenders, they joked.
"That's all he ever wanted for Christmas," said his daughter Maureen Zwier, with a hearty laugh.
He constantly kept Limburger cheese in the refrigerator, and before his health forced him to switch to non-alcoholic beer, he preferred an ice-cold Miller Genuine Draft. His favorite restaurant in town? Nick's Barbecue.
"We had to stop in there to tell the girls the news," Char said. "When they saw the truck, they had my raspberry iced tea and Bob's O'Doul's waiting."
The restaurant doesn't ordinarily serve O'Doul's brew, she said, but staff members would make sure they had some on hand for Bob's visits.
"Everybody loved him," Mark said. "There was no way not to. He made a big difference in his community."
Aside from his own 11, the well-loved U.S. Army World War II veteran left behind 25 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
"I'll miss everything about him," Char said. "He was always there. Whenever anyone needed him, he was there."
When you met Oehmen, you had a friend for life, Mark said.
"Even at 89 years old, he remembered everyone's name," he said, noting that his dad was also a member of the American Legion 615 in Tinley. "He never forgot anybody."
Bob held many positions over the years at the VFW post, but was especially proud of his participation in military funerals at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. He'll be buried there on Tuesday.
"He was Mr. VFW," said Bruce Lorence, 61, of Tinley Park, who's a member of the post. "You wouldn't believe the things he did for this place, and for kids in local schools. He'd visit them and coordinate projects. He's done everything."
Those who knew Bob also remembered him for his one-of-a-kind handmade cards. He sent out more than 400 for Christmas alone but would also make them for birthdays, special occasions or to offer condolences.
He told Tinley Park Patch in July that he did so because he liked to remember people and think about them when writing out each card. He also shared with us his love for his fellow military men and women.
"I like the veterans," he said, at the time. "I feel like I'm doing an important job taking care of all my friends and their families. I live and I'll die doing this. I love it. It's in my blood, I can't get it out."
Visitation for Bob is scheduled for 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, at Vandenberg Funeral Home in Tinley Park. His burial service will begin there at 10 a.m. Tuesday after which a procession will lead to the Lincoln National Cemetery, where he will be laid to rest. In lieu of flowers, Bob's children ask that donations be made to the family.