The news Monday of the death of former Cole County Eastern District Commissioner Mike "Pee Wee" Forck took many by surprise.
Family members posted the news of his death on social media, which led to large number of tributes for Forck. He had been at a hospital in St. Louis for heart surgery but could not overcome complications from the procedure.
"He leaves big shoes to fill — literally and figuratively," said current Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher. Hoelscher took over Forck's position when Forck decided not to run for re-election in 2008. Forck held the Bible while Hoelscher recited the oath for the office when he came onto the commission.
"He embraced me and showed me the ropes," Hoelscher said. "He helped me before and after he left office. He was a Democrat and could have just walked away, but he didn't. He tried to help me and others whenever he could. I will always have the utmost respect for him. We're going to miss him."
Forck was active in the community through many civic involvements, including ticket sales, church and 4-H activities. Some commented in their tributes how it was ironic Forck died while the Jefferson City Jaycees Cole County Fair was taking place this week as Forck and his family have farmed all of their lives and have always participated in 4-H activities at the fair.
In 2008, Forck, received the Friend of Extension Award from the Alpha Tau chapter of Epsilon Sigma Phi. The award was to recognize his longtime support of the University of Missouri Extension in Cole County.
Forck served on the Cole County Extension Council from 1990-2006 as an elected member and as the county commission representative.
As co-chair of the building committee, he played a key role in raising funds and securing loans to build the extension office on Tanner Bridge Road.
In 2001, Forck received a Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman's Award for his leadership on the Agribusiness Committee and being instrumental in forming the Cole County Communities Committee.
Chamber officials also acknowledged Forck for serving on the Jefferson City Correctional Center Relocation Task Force, which they said ensured the $17 million payroll stayed in the county. He also served on the Prison Redevelopment Task Force.
Forck was the chairman for the 2004 American Heart Association Heart Walk two years after suffering a heart attack. He said after everything the American Heart Association had done for him, he should return the favor.
One of the more memorable events Forck participated in was in 2007 when Forck dressed up as Punxsutawney Pee Wee for Ground Hog Day.
This happened at an early-morning meeting of the East Side Business Association. Forck agreed to don the costume as a way to boost interest in the association.
"Well, you know me, I always have fun, whatever I do," Forck said after the meeting.
"He was a devoted public servant and would do anything for you," said former Cole County Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger, who served with Forck during Forck's final years on the commission. "It was a shock to hear today and hard to accept since I had talked to him only a couple of weeks ago."
"From the first day I walked in, he was always there, usually laughing and chuckling," Ellinger added. "While we didn't always agree on things, I'll probably remember him more for the little things. He never forgot a birthday, and many times he'd call you up and sing to you. I think it was part of his way to show how much people meant to him."