LECO is saddened to announce the passing of our former president, Robert J. Warren, 88, of St. Joseph, Michigan . He passed away peacefully on April 23, 2022, at home, surrounded by family and friends.
Bob was born on September 22, 1933 in Pleasantville, Iowa. He grew up working on the family farm until he left for college at Iowa State University. He received a BS in Agricultural Engineering at ISU in 1956. While in school he worked part-time for John Deere, doing tractor research.
After graduation, Bob worked in sales for LeTourneau Inc. in Peoria, IL, an American manufacturer of heavy construction equipment. Following his work at LeTourneau, Bob moved to Benton Harbor to work for Clark Equipment.
Bob gained more than a new job in Benton Harbor, MI. Just as importantly, Bob met his future wife, Elizabeth D. Schultz. On October 20, 1962, Bob and Elizabeth, daughter of Laboratory Equipment Company President, Carl Schultz, married in St. Joseph. Bob then began working at Benton Harbor Malleable, one of three companies owned by Schultz. Bob began his career at LECO Corporation on July 1, 1968. Seven years later, Bob became LECO Corporation President, a position he held until retiring in 2016.
Bob’s integrity, vision, and leadership were key contributors to the company’s growth and success. He had a passion for developing innovative laboratory instrumentation with customer-rich features that exceeded anything in the industry. Under Bob’s guidance, LECO became one of the most respected and reliable employers in Southwest Michigan, growing nearly three times what it had been when he assumed leadership.
Bob recognized that continued expansion into Europe and Asia would be key to the company’s future growth. To that end, he soon established LECO sales and service representatives on nearly every continent. It is the diverse product portfolio and international footprint Bob established that has kept the company thriving, even during economic downturns.
In 2016, Bob officially retired from LECO Corporation, after 53 years, and successfully passed the business on to the third generation.
Following his retirement, the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), two well-respected organizations within the laboratory instrumentation industry, honored Bob Warren with the Pittcon Heritage Award, recognizing his contributions to the advancement of science and laboratory instrumentation.
Bob was more than just LECO, however.
He was a life-long farmer. His love of agriculture and heavy equipment led him to purchase an enormous amount of land and property throughout Southwest Michigan. He was always hands-on when it came to farming, or any construction project, and could often be found operating an excavator, backhoe, or tractor. It was not unusual for him to show up at the office with mud all over his vehicle and a cornstalk wedged in the bumper.
Bob was known as a collector of some interesting cars. His collection included a couple of 1970s Cadillac Eldorado models, Corvettes (including a 1978 Indianapolis pace car), Morgan Roadster, and even a DeLorean (though no one is sure the DeLorean ever ran).
Bob enjoyed boating and being out on the water as well, so much so that he built his own marina— Pier 33. He owned numerous Bertram yachts, all named “Elizabeth,” and fished for salmon, steelhead, and perch on Lake Michigan. He also took the family on many overnight, weekend trips to Saugatuck. It was natural, then, that boating became a way of life for his sons—with ski boats, fishing boats, sailboats, and offshore racing boats.
Bob enjoyed golfing and held memberships at Berrien Hills, Point-O-Woods, and Lost Dunes Country Clubs at one time or another, as well as various clubs in Florida and Georgia. His disregard for “warm up” and his speed-of-play often threw off his opponents, and if those things didn’t, his short game would in the end. He was very competitive in everything and was delighted when you couldn’t pass him on a go-cart or catch your breath while playing racquetball.
Bob enjoyed frequent travel to Las Vegas, Europe, and Florida, but always felt most at home in St. Joseph, where he would spend his final years. He and Elizabeth were long-time supporters of the Venetian Festival and Silver Beach Carousel, and made countless donations to other organizations, groups, and causes. He was also quick to remind anyone that he, at one time, owned Silver Beach before transferring it to Berrien County, ensuring the beach was properly developed and could always be enjoyed by the community.
Whether you knew him as Bob, RJW, Mr. Warren, the Big Guy, Dad, Grandpa, or Big Time (the last name given to him by the sales staff at a fruit stand in Florida he frequented), he will always be remembered for being bold and direct. He was never afraid to tell you exactly how he felt! His quirky personality built a storied reputation among his colleagues, employees, and members of the community. However, all knew that beyond that tough exterior was a man with a very caring heart. Bob gave so much of himself to his family, company and his community, and rarely accepted acknowledgement or recognition from anyone. He preferred to stay “behind the scenes,” keeping a watchful eye from the background, often leaving only a cigar behind as evidence of his presence.
In addition to Elizabeth, his wife of 60 years, Bob is survived by his children: Robert (Pattie), Carl (Sharon), Dwight (Manda), and Christopher (Carrie); grandchildren Madison (Nolan), Jonathon (Emily), Patrick (Hannah), Stephen, Blake, Sydney, Eric, Aria, Cash, and Cate; and great-grandchildren, Remus, Henry, and Cedric.
The family would like to thank the loving caretakers and Caring Circle for their dedication and help in Bob’s final years.
Visitation will be Wednesday April 27, 2022 at Starks & Menchinger 2650 Niles Road, St. Joseph, MI 49085 from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. Funeral Services will be Thursday April 28 at Trinity Lutheran 613 Court St, St Joseph, MI 49085 at 11 a.m. He will be laid to rest at Riverview Cemetery. The family would welcome your remembrance contributions to Caring Circle (Hospice at Home). Those wishing to leave an online condolence may do so at https://www.starksfamilyfh.com/obituaries/robert-warren.