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September 30, 2005

Horak was first deaf man to join Coast Guard Auxiliary

From: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Milwaukee,WI,USA - Sep 30, 2005

He inspected hundreds of boats yearly for safety


Waukesha - Bob Horak knew everything there was to know about boats even though he couldn't hear them.

The first deaf member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Horak worked as a vessel examiner for years on Waukesha County lakes, ensuring that boats complied with nearly three dozen federal and state regulations.

An avid boater, Horak and his wife, Joan, owned a series of them, including a 28-foot Cray he docked in Sheboygan.

Robert C. Horak died Sept. 22 at Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

He was born Dec. 15, 1942, in Brookfield, Ill. In 1970, he became the first deaf man to join the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, a volunteer organization that promotes boating safety. A year later, he was commissioned as its first deaf staff officer for the Auxiliary in Addison, Ill.

Art Remus, then the division staff officer, said he never saw anyone as happy as Horak was after his appointment.

"He was so elated that first night he talked in front of people," said Remus, who lives in Bensenville, Ill. "He just cried."

Horak read lips and could speak well enough to be understood, but when faced with the need to discuss some technical aspects of marine vessels, he handed out cards identifying himself as deaf and wrote notes to people who couldn't understand him.

When he and Joan moved to Waukesha in the late 1980s, where Horak had accepted a job at Cybros Inc., a bakery, Horak transferred to Waukesha's flotilla.

There he examined hundreds of boats a year on Waukesha County lakes, a task too great for some to tackle.

"Bob was known in some years to do several hundred," said George Egan, a past district commodore for the Waukesha flotilla.

"More likely than not, he did even more than that. I did 150 one year, and that was too much, I'll tell you."

"He made the very best of it," Egan said. "We all appreciated him, and he was a sought-after member."

Walter Milbrath, a Waukesha man whom Horak considered to be like a son he never had, went boating with Horak on weekends.

Milbrath said the Horaks had countless friends in the deaf communities in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. On some summer weekends, the couple would drive their boat up and down the Lake Michigan shore, docking in Chicago for a couple of days to visit with old friends.

Along with boating, Horak also bred springer spaniel dogs. He had a keen interest in the weather, and constructed a vane on his roof that measured things such as the barometric pressure, wind speed and temperature, said his friend, Jim Blackwood.

In addition to his wife, Horak is survived by a sister, Donna Mills, and a nephew, Daniel James Mills, both of Tennessee.

A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Joseph's Cemetery Chapel in Waukesha.

From the Sept. 30, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

© 2005, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.