MAHOMET — Roger Huddleston didn’t particularly care for the back-handed compliment that he could sell snow to Eskimos.
“He resented that,” said his son, Burt Huddleston, recalling his dad had a quick comeback.
“You’re assuming an Eskimo doesn’t need snow. I’m trying to help people make a purchase, not trying to sell them something,” he recalled his father saying.
The 73-year-old inhalation therapist, nursing home administrator and insurance, mobile home and manufactured homes salesman whose product allowed thousands a chance at home ownership died at his home in Mahomet late Monday.
Sons Burt and Matt Huddleston said their father suffered from complications related to an ailing heart. His wife of 53 years, Margo, was with him when he passed.
He is being remembered by his sons and friends as a hard-working business owner and a man who loved his community.
But Mr. Huddleston will probably be best remembered for a fight he could not win: retaining Chief Illiniwek as the symbol of the University of Illinois.
“He tried to do a lot for the Chief. He bled orange and blue,” said his friend, George Schoonover, a fellow Mahomet resident and business owner.
Mr. Huddleston was one of the co-founders of the Honor the Chief Society, dedicated to the defense of using a student dressed as a Native American as the symbol of the UI despite the belief of many that the imagery was racist and hurtful.
The group was around for several years before the last official appearance of the Chief in February 2007.
“The organization and the way they went about it was very proper,” Burt Huddleston said of his father’s efforts.
“They tried to get Native Americans involved. It took a lot of time to organize those things.”
Burt Huddleston said his dad attended but never graduated from the UI but was a “huge fan” of Illinois basketball and football, serving a term as president of the Quarterback Club for Illini football fans.
He also served on the Illini Legend Committee.
When News-Gazette sports writer Loren Tate was given that award in 2002, Mr. Huddleston said: “We don’t make legends. Legends are a result of a decision that an individual makes.”
Matt Huddleston said his parents’ home is filled with Chief memorabilia, including a rare photographic print of the Chief and a stained glass window depicting the Chief.
There will be no family squabbles over those items, the sons agreed.
Roger and Margo Huddleston had four sons and one daughter.
“It’s neat, but it comes down to only stuff,” said Burt Huddleston, preferring to dwell on the memory of a hard-working father committed to helping others.
“Many times we would wake up and he was already at work and still be there when it was time for dinner,” said Burt Huddleston, an educator who lives in Champaign.
“He was always looking for a way to help people that needed help, that might have been down on their luck, just needed a boost. People knew they could come to him if they needed help,” he said.
Mr. Huddleston was a supporter of Metanoia, a faith-based organization that in 2003 worked to provide affordable housing in depressed areas of Champaign.
He also served on the board of the Mahomet Area Youth Club.
“He helped at the very inception (of the youth club) … to make contacts and get it established and put together a real workable plan,” said Matt Huddleston, a social worker from Normal.
Matt Huddleston said he and his siblings all worked at times with their dad, learning as much from him on the job as they did in school.
Their brother Joe, a “fantastic” carpenter, developed his interest in that field at their father’s hand.
Their other brother, Josh Huddleston, is retired from the military, and their sister, Debbie Janczewski, works for C-U at Home.
“People just gravitated toward him. He had a real strong voice, literally, and he helped people get things done. We learned this about our grandfather, too,” said Matt Huddleston.
Roger Huddleston was in business early in his career with his father, Warren Huddleston, who sold mobile homes. Later, Mr. Huddleston got into the manufactured home business, where prefabricated homes were put on lots and finished in place.
His health forced him out of that business around 2005, his sons said.
Bud Parkhill of Mahomet, a business associate of Warren Huddleston, said Roger Huddleston was a “good salesman” who did an excellent job. He also had a flair for writing, Parkhill said.
Parkhill, who owns Candlewood Estates where the Huddlestons have a home, said Mr. Huddleston was very active in the mobile-home association and recalled that his friend served as president of the Illinois Manufactured Housing Association.
About six years ago, Parkhill said he coaxed Mr. Huddleston out of retirement to help him sell homes, which he did for a few years until his health again forced him back into retirement.
Schoonover, who’s had his sewer service business in Mahomet since 1985, said he’s known Mr. Huddleston at least 40 years.
“He helped my mom and dad out years ago on a mobile home. He was always willing to help. When I was president of the (Mahomet) Chamber of Commerce for 10 years, I worked with him,” said Schoonover.
“He was a likeable guy. He had a big heart.”