City Council Meeting Fixture Walter Shrake Hangs Up His Notepad
Irv Shrake in repose at his desk, with the special candy dish filled with black licorice and Good and Plenty candy at his side. The dish and candy were a gift from Mayor Larry Stebbins and his wife, Mary, in honor of Shrake’s retirement from City Council reporting duties.
(PA photo/Michael Miller)
By MICHAEL MILLER | For The Prairie Advocate News
SAVANNA – The most recent Savanna City Council meeting was missing a component that has been present at those hallowed halls for decades, and it’s not likely to see this component there on a regular basis again anytime soon.
Walter “Irv” Shrake, who was the Savanna City Clerk from 1997 to 2009 for three full terms, and has covered the meetings for the Savanna Times-Journal since 1989 to 2013, has officially retired from that stage. (During the time that Shrake did “double duty” as reporter and Clerk, he did not have a byline in the paper).
Shrake says he stepped away from the Clerk position because “I thought three terms was long enough.” He says he was getting up in years and felt it was time to let someone else have a chance at the job.
In regards to his reporting duties, Shrake says when he was given his retirement clock from the Soo Line railroad it was April of 1989, and he wasn’t eligible for railroad pension until 1993, being only 56 years old at the time. He needed somewhere to work in the meantime, and he knew Lyle Exstrom, who published the paper at the time and applied for and obtained a job there. He started as the news editor for the Journal on Labor Day weekend of 1989, which at the time was a twice a week publication. He recalls at the time the paper had carriers that delivered each edition, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Once he started receiving his railroad pension, he could not continue to work at the same place he’d been working at because his benefits would be reduced based on his income from the paper. He could and does free lance for the paper but he could no longer be a full time employee. January 13th, 1993 was his last official full time day of employment with the paper, and he’s been freelancing ever since. Upon turning eighty this month, he decided to retire from Council reporting duties.
Shrake isn’t completely retiring, as he will continue with his regular column, “staying indoors during bad weather” and “keeping his finger on the pulse of the City.”
He also plans to continue to be active in the Savanna Bible Church, of which he has been a member for over fifty years. During that time, he has served in various capacities, including superintendent, deacon, elder, Sunday School teacher, board chairman, missionary chairman, and is currently the treasurer. “I’ll be active in the community in various ways,” Shrake adds.
Asked about his Council meetings that will stand out in his memory, Shrake answers that he’d say around the time that the Savanna Hospital was still active but in dire straits financially. He recalls that some of the Quad Cities television stations would come up and cover the first ten minutes or so of the meeting, then leave. He said there was much conflict at that time, with community members for and against the hospital staying open.
“It turned kind of ugly there for a while,” he notes, with loud and passionate crowds attending.
Shrake didn’t go away from his duties empty handed, as he received a candy dish from Mayor Larry Stebbins and his wife, Mary, who knew that he had an affinity for black licorice and filled the dish with the confection for Shrake on his final evening there.
Shrake is a lifetime Savanna resident, born in the old City hospital at the corner of Fifth Street and Washington Street, January of 1933. He says his father paid for the taxi drive home with son, Walter, using the last quarter he had, during the Depression. At the time the railroad paid for its employees’ coal because they could not pay for this on their own.
Shrake himself worked for the railroad from 1950 to 1989, with a four year stint in the Navy contained within this time. He trained workers in data processing, traveling from Seattle to Louisville, and from Duluth, Minnesota to Kansas City, Kansas performing this duty, totaling 340,000 miles.
Shrake and his wife, Betty will be married 55 years in July of this year. They have three children: Sharon, of Arkansas, who has two sons of her own, a daughter, Melissa Stubblefield in Fulton with three daughters, and two sons, David of Boston, and Daniel, of Savanna. He and Betty share their home with three cats after a lifetime of owning dogs.