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Heeke, longtime ex-state rep., dies

August 19, 2009
Former State Rep. Dennis Heeke, a Democrat from Dubois County who served in the House for 34 years, died Friday morning, Aug. 14, 2009, at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper at the age of 81.

Heeke was elected in District 73 at the age of 38 and continued to be re-elected until he retired following the 1998 election. He served several years as caucus chairman for Indiana House Democrats and was known as a champion of issues of importance in rural areas.

"He was actually the caucus chairman during an interesting time," State Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, said. "It was a time when there were dual speakers — dual chairmen, in the House, back when Frank O'Bannon was lieutenant governor. Dennis had a sprawling House district that included a lot of communities, and he was one that made sure rural communities were well represented and their voices were heard."

Heeke was instrumental in the development of the Patoka Reservoir, and many considered that accomplishment his most important legacy. And many admired his ability to understand the political system and develop relationships that served him and his district well.

"He worked hard on many issues and supported volunteer firemen, as I do," Young said. "He made sure the firemen and the people who operate ambulances had decent equipment. He was actually involved in the legislation to set up fire districts. And that helps all of us. When firemen have better equipment and support, they are able to get to burning homes quicker, which, in turn, results in lower fire insurance premiums for all of us.

"Dennis had a bad stroke about 10 years ago, and I didn't know if he would recover, but he did. He was still active and was interested in what was going on. He'd call me and talk about legislation. He had a lot of experience that we all benefited from and stayed active in community meetings. I talked to him two weeks ago about some issues and we were in contact regularly. But about a week ago, he began to feel bad and was dizzy. He was admitted to the hospital, where he passed away on Friday. We're going to miss Dennis."

Heeke is survived by his wife, Leola, four sons, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A funeral Mass was held Monday at St. Raphael Catholic Church and burial was in the church cemetery.

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