With his bushy mustache and outspoken personality, Erich Himmel was a very visible leader of the German-American Chicago community.
A native of the German state of Bavaria, Himmel was grand marshal at the annual Von Steuben parade in Chicago for over three decades. Himmel was also the former longtime president of the United American German-American Societies of Greater Chicago, an organization that associates approximately 35 groups that promote German culture in the Chicago area.
“He was so committed to German culture, to the German community,” said Joe Bradtke, the current president of the United German-American Societies of Greater Chicago. “He was so dedicated. And he worked harder than men half their age.
Himmel, 86, died of organ failure on August 29 at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, his daughter Carol said. He has been a resident of Morton Grove for the past 15 years and previously lived in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago.
Born in Moosbach, Germany, Himmel grew up in Munich where he met his 65-year-old wife Inge in a dance hall. In the post-war years, there were few apartments in Munich, so the couple lived with Himmel’s mother for a year.
In 1958, the couple moved to New Hampshire, where Himmel’s wife had relatives, and Himmel worked for a time as a night watchman at a gym shoe factory.
The couple soon moved to Chicago, where Himmel began working as a mechanic at Volkswagen dealerships. Himmel was drafted into the US Army in 1960 and returned to Germany with his wife, where he served in the army during the er*ction of the Berlin Wall.
Upon his return to Chicago, Himmel resumed his job as a mechanic at Volkswagen and eventually moved to dealership management. In 1982, Himmel and his daughter opened Erich’s Lehigh Auto Body in Niles.
Himmel was the president of the United German American Societies of Greater Chicago for 33 years, which sponsors the annual three-day German Oktoberfest in Lincoln Square, as well as the Von Steuben Parade, among others.
“He was someone to whom many people went for advice,” said his daughter. “He was really good at connecting people.”
Himmel has been Grand Marshal of the Annual Von Steuben Parade for 35 years, and has also helped organize events such as the German American Fest at Lincoln Square. And he was the longtime president of the Rheinischer Verein von Chicago, a venerable club dedicated to the observation of Mardi Gras in the German tradition.
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“It’s a crazy time,” Himmel told the Tribune in 1986, referring to Mardi Gras. “Rheinischer Verein translates as” Rhine River Club “. Our statute dates back to 1890 ”.
In 1994, Himmel was awarded the highest civilian award a German can receive from the German government, the Bundesverdienstkreuz medal – also known as the Federal Cross of Merit – for promoting German culture in the USA
Himmel never left his company, which is now run by his daughter and her nephew.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Himmel left behind another daughter, Diana Himmel-Krewer; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services were held.
Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.
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