After a long battle with a number of health issues, William Burke Sr., founder of Burke Corporation and a pioneer in the fully cooked pizza topping industry, passed away July 2 at the age of 81.
Born in St. Louis, Burke grew up in Wauwatosa, Wis., and served in the U.S. Army in Korea. Following graduation from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., he and his wife, Alice, made their home in Milwaukee, where their six children were born. While in Milwaukee, Burke worked for Patrick Cudahy and twice ran for U.S. Congress.
The Burke family moved to Dubuque, Iowa, in 1960. In 1964, Burke accepted a position at Supreme Foods in Ames, Iowa. The Burkes eventually bought the company and it became Pronto Food Kitchens, later Burke Corporation. In 1974, the company shifted focus from the manufacturer of frozen pizzas to producing and marketing custom pre-cooked pizza toppings.
When the company outgrew its Ames location in 1984, Burke Corporation moved to Nevada, Iowa, where numerous expansions have grown the company to more than 350 employees.
In 1991, Burke transferred more of the day-to-day responsibilities to senior team members, allowing him more time to focus on his wife Alice, family and several key civic causes for which he held great passion.
Throughout more than 30 years in the topping business and 50 years in the pizza industry, the company that was founded by Burke has served more than 1,600 customers and made significant contributions to the pizza industry.