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Former Rep. Heeke, a rural champion, dies at 81

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Former state Democratic Rep. Dennis Heeke, who served in the Indiana House for 34 years and was instrumental in the development of Patoka Reservoir, has died. He was 81.

Heeke, who spent numerous years as caucus chairman for Indiana House Democrats, died Friday morning at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper. Known as a champion of rural areas, he represented the Dubois County area in southern Indiana.

Heeke was elected to the House at age 38 and re-elected until he retired from District 73 after the 1998 election.

Many consider the construction of the Patoka Reservoir, a recreation spot along the Dubois River about 50 miles northeast of Evansville, his chief legacy.

Former House Speaker John Gregg said Heeke’s ability to understand the legislative system might have been his biggest political strength.

“He was the epitome of a southern Indiana politician. He built relationships. He downplayed his influence. He was quiet and sly. And, he could count. He knew who would vote (for a particular bill) and who wouldn’t,” said Gregg, who served eight years in the House with Heeke.

Former Rep. Dave Crooks, also a Democrat, said Heeke succeeded in Indianapolis because he listened well.

“He listened twice as much as he would speak, and he could explain the process as well as anyone,” Crooks said.

Heeke is survived by his wife, Leola Heeke, four sons, two sisters, a brother, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Raphael Catholic Church, Dubois. Burial will be in the church cemetery. Friends may call from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Becher-Kluesner Downtown Chapel in Jasper.

Information from: The Herald, http://www.dcherald.com

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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