Ronald Cecil Burke, who heeled shoes and saved soles in Madison for more than half a century as proprietor of Cecil’s Shoe Repair, died peacefully on Monday Feb. 10, 2020 at UW Hospital in Madison. Ron was born in rural Richland County on May 26, 1943, the son of Cecil Burke and Isabelle Turner. He attended a one-room school, where he read every book in the library. He occasionally rode his pony to school and frequently got from place to place in the countryside riding in his grandfather’s Piper Cub airplane. After high school he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed in Korea for several years. Upon discharge he rejoined his family at their new home in Madison. At first he worked as an ironworker but he eventually joined the family business, known then as Cecil’s Sandals. He took over the business in the late 60s and operated it for over 50 years in various locations around town—most recently on the far west side. He worked up to the day he entered the hospital for his final illness.
Ron never saw running his shop as work. He enjoyed coming up with creative solutions to his customer’s repair problems and helping customers who needed their footwear adapted to address various health issues. He taught the trade to countless young workers, many of whom went on to open their own businesses (some of them retired before he did). Most important, his front counter was a place to cross paths with people from all walks of life. He was good at listening to their stories and at telling many of his own. He always befriended his business neighbors as well as his frequent customers. His rural background had taught him the importance of community and the interdependence of neighbors upon each other.
When he wasn’t working, Ron enjoyed spending time out of doors. In midlife he tackled backpacking, taking annual trips into the Grand Canyon with a group of friends. He enjoyed photography, cross-county skiing, and trips to Lake Superior. When he had a downtown shop, he was known to sail his boat across the lake to make a bank deposit. But it was Richland county that always remained his sanctuary, and he made an annual trip there to visit family graves and homesites every Memorial Day weekend.
Despite his outgoing nature, Ron was a very humble person who kept his personal burdens to himself. His first thought was always of others. We will miss him terribly.
Ron is survived by his wife Diane, children Sandra, Brian (Candyce), Debra, Jeffrey (Tina) and Elizabeth, and grandsons Jackson Burke, and Jacob and Oliver Rockman. He was preceded in death by his parents, and his sister Judy (Bernard.)
Visitation will be held at Cress–Middleton Funeral Home, 6021 University Ave., from 3–5:30 p.m. on Sunday Feb. 16. A memorial service will be held at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent St. , on Monday Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. , with a visitation beforehand at 10 a.m. Memorials may be made to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison.
The family would like to thank the many doctors, nurses and staff at UW Hospital who cared for Ron during his frequent hospitalizations through the years, and especially for the compassionate care he received during his final days.
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