Trek Bicycle Corporation is in mourning after the loss of Richard “Dick” Burke, the company’s co-founder and chairman, who died in a Milwaukee hospital late Monday night of complications from cardiac surgery. He was 73.
Born in Chicago in 1934, Burke attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, earning a bachelor’s degree from the College of Business Administration in 1956. After college Burke worked for a handful of companies before landing a job with Milwaukee-based appliance distributor Roth Distributing in 1960. With a knack for finance, Burke eventually became the company’s treasurer and a shareholder. In 1976, with $100,000 in seed money from Roth and a hunch that a high-quality American-made frame could fill the gap between Schwinn and the imported Japanese frame market, Burke started Trek Bicycle in a rented red pole barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin. With a payroll of five, Trek began handcrafting high-end steel touring frames. Under Burke’s leadership, Trek grew from those humble beginnings into what is today the United States’ largest bicycle manufacturer. In 1998 Burke stepped down as CEO of Trek, turning day-to-day operations over to his son John. He remained active in the family business until the time of his death, serving as chairman of the board.
A gifted and accomplished businessman, it’s Burke’s philanthropy and sense of social responsibility, not his business acumen, that will serve as his true legacy.
With a deep commitment to give back to the community and a strong affection for Marquette University, Burke established two programs for undergraduate and graduate students at Marquette—the Burke Scholars and Trinity Fellows. The Burke Scholarship program awards full-tuition scholarships to incoming Marquette freshmen from Wisconsin who have demonstrated leadership in service to others. With an emphasis on community service and social responsibility, Burke Scholars put into action Burke’s vision that one of the best ways to help students is to give them an opportunity to develop service and leadership alongside their academic education.
Through his Trinity Foundation, Burke has also contributed tens of millions of dollars to community organizations in the greater Milwaukee area, including a cooperative program between Mount Mary and Alverno Colleges for future urban teachers, as well as a program at Mount Mary for women from the inner city of Milwaukee who are working toward a college degree.
Thanks to a multi-year grant to the Urban Ecology Center from the Trinity Foundation, Milwaukee’s Riverside Park now bustles with educational and recreational activities for children and families. Hundreds of Milwaukee area youth are the beneficiaries of the Trinity Foundation’s multimillion dollar gift to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, a joint venture of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and First Stage Children’s Theatre. The Trinity Foundation has also generously supported Nativity Jesuit Middle School and the YMCA’s “Sponsor a Scholar Program.” On average, each year Burke’s Trinity Foundation gives between $2.5 million to $3 million to the Milwaukee area.
A self-effacing man who eschewed the idea of having his name plastered on the side of a building, Burke had a clear vision for how his generosity could make a critical difference, focusing his Trinity Foundation on urban education, youth, and leadership development—areas where he said “he can and must make a difference.” As he put it, “If you are fortunate enough to gain resources in this world, you have a responsibility to give back to society.”
The embodiment of the Trek way, Burke’s leadership, generosity, sense of social responsibility, and warm smile will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
He is survived by his wife Camille, five children, and eleven grandchildren.