The man who led the development and care of Izaak Walton Nature Preserve in Homewood for more than four decades died Wednesday, April 17.
Robert "Bob" Ahlf, 77, died at his Belleair, Florida, residence.
Ahlf came to Homewood in 1968 after receiving his master of science degree in transportation from the University of Tennessee. He also studied railway civil engineering.
He took a job with the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad and became chief operations planning officer. In later years, he formed his own railway development consulting business.
Ahlf may be best known in Homewood for his long leadership at Izaak Walton with its lakes, woodlands, ancient sand dunes, native prairie, wetlands, picnic grounds, veterans’ memorial and baseball diamonds.
He became a member of the Izaak Walton organization when he moved to Homewood and was elected president in 1972, a position he held until 2013, when he stepped down for health reasons.
He is credited with not only being a steward of the land but with bringing a community of volunteers together to help care for the 193-acre preserve. The organization now has about 1,200 members.
The Preserve’s “Save-the-Prairie” campaign in 1987 was a winner in the federal government’s “Take-Pride-In-America” program, according to his obituary. Ahlf attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C., and was presented the award by then-President Ronald Reagan.
John Brinkman, current president of the preserve, said the community of volunteers who worked with Ahlf are mourning his passing.
"Bob Ahlf epitomized the spirit of volunteerism and public service during his many years of leadership that allowed the preserve to expand, overcome challenges and adversity, and become the successful organization and nature preserve that it is today," Brinkman said. "Those of us who cherish the preserve express our unending gratitude to him for his immense contributions that we will always appreciate and never forget."
Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld, a daily visitor to Izaak Walton, served with Ahlf on the village plan commission in 1974-1975, and the two remained friends through the years.
"I have only good memories of Bob," he said. "We shared a love of the preserve. We shared the same goals and he always found a way to make them happen."
Hofeld described Ahlf as both the face and the backbone of the organization, doing everything from engineering work to volunteer organizing.
"We were blessed to have him as long as we did," he said.
Ahlf developed a good working relationship between the preserve organization and the village. In 2014 he was inducted into the Homewood Hall of Fame.