Southwestern Michigan College alumnus Steve Vojtko’s July 1 death at 61 left a void in two states. His active life enhanced communities 35 miles apart — New Carlisle, Ind., where he was Town Council vice president, and Eau Claire, where he managed the Fruit Exchange for 16 years.
Mr. Vojtko, who had also farmed in the Cassopolis area, completed SMC associate degrees in agriculture management and in business management in the early 1990s. His memorials will help fund additional SMC agricultural scholarships.
The Berrien Springs-Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce member used his position at the Fruit Exchange Old-Fashioned General Store to promote the Berrien County town, community involvement in festivals and veterans programs.
"He did everything he could to help his customers, big and small, the town and our veterans," said Jo Herman, chair of Southwest Michigan Veterans Support Group. "When we were working on Veterans Park, he sent some of his people to help us. He loaned us tools and provided mulch. He made sure the Fruit Exchange not only did monetary donations to benefit vets, but he was also a big supporter of fundraisers, purchasing dinners. He was good to our group. We lost a giant of a man who’s irreplaceable.”
"He helped everyone," Village Clerk Shawn Foster said. "He always had the Christmas assistance program for families in need and a fall harvest festival with a chili cook-off. We absolutely loved Christmas decorations he put up every year and outdoor speakers playing Christmas music. He always donated to the village scarecrow-building we do every fall.”
“People don’t realize what all he did because he worked behind the scenes and never needed his name on anything. He was just helping people and didn’t need credit,” Sue Moffitt, New Carlisle clerk-treasurer, said. “His dedication to making our little town a better place for everyone was unlimited. I could never figure out how he fit so much in one day.”
"Steve was the epitome of the perfect ‘politician,'" Moffitt said. "He was a public servant with no personal agenda, a true representative of people he was elected to serve. He was both a gentleman and a gentle man. I am so thankful to have known him.”
He was first elected to the New Carlisle Town Council in 2000. He had been liaison to police, fire and EMS services, utilities, streets and sidewalks. He served on the park and cemetery boards, was appointed town representative to the library board, serving as president, and named to several terms on the St. Joseph County Solid Waste Board, also serving as president, and on the Area Plan Commission. While on the New Carlisle Park Board, Mr. Vojtko was instrumental in developing a two-day-a-week children’s summer program in 2001 that continues and Wednesday Summer Concerts in the Park he scheduled and organized each August.
“He was a very likable man,” his son Vincent said. “My father was a force for good will. If there was a way to give back, he would find it. He found joy in the smallest things that he transferred to everybody else.”
Mr. Vojtko was born March 6, 1957, in South Haven to Edward and Alice (Nennich) Vojtko, and was the oldest of five siblings. On Sept. 23, 1978, he married Marie Plotner. Vincent has two sisters, Jennifer in Ohio and Katherine in Pennsylvania. Mr. Vojtko had four grandchildren.
Memorials may be directed to SMC’s George Wuszke Agricultural Memorial Scholarship. Checks should be made payable to the SMC Foundation, noting contributions are for the Wuszke Memorial.
Mr. Wuszke, who died in 2015, served on the board of directors of the Fruit Exchange, which growers formed in 1926 to market fruit and vegetables. Direct donations to the SMC Foundation, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047.