Bob Zak, 89, WWII vet, pilot, inventor

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Robert E. Zak of Brookfield, formerly of Oak Park, died on Nov. 24, 2011. Born on June 5, 1922, he grew up in Forest Park, flew airplanes out of the airport in Westchester in the early 1940s and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He assisted in the rescue of his brother, George, after he escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany near the end of the war.

Mr. Zak worked for Zenith and Motorola and retired from American Airlines in 1983 after 25 years there.

He was an avid inventor. His son, Steve, recalled that when Bob was a kid, "He wired a speaker to a tree in his backyard and spoke to kids walking down the alley from a hiding spot. When the astonished children brought their mothers to see it, of course, the 'talking tree' was silent."

Steve said his dad retired early to spend more time with his family and work on that "million dollar" idea.

"He was a dreamer, but he also did concrete things to help people, like creating a book of words and pictures to help stroke victims communicate their needs. He wanted to help the blind.

"He built a backyard ice rink. He taught me how to use tools. In the 1970s, we listened to CBS Radio Mystery Theatre on WBBM, sitting in our station wagon in the parking lot at night. He didn't kill me when I later blew up the engine in that same car giving someone a jump."

Bob Zak was the husband of Peggy (nee Moran); the father of Steve (Sandy), Diane (Tom) McClellan and Bill Zak; the grandfather of Dan and Miranda Zak, and Madelyn and John McClellan; the brother of George (the late Joan) Zak, Marie (the late Bill) Franta and the late Theresa, Margaret and Thomas (Barbara) Zak; and the uncle of many.

Visitation was held on Nov. 27 at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home in Oak Park. Funeral Mass was celebrated on Nov. 28 at Ascension Church in Oak Park, followed by interment with military honors at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside.

In lieu of flowers, memorials to Alzheimer's Association are appreciated.

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