Mark’s most recognizable position was as he served as the Mayor of Belleville for 16.5 years (2004-2021). He was incredibly dedicated to the role. As Mayor, he loved spending time downtown, talking to people, and helping anyone in the community who had a problem. He gave his phone number to anyone who may need to reach him and answered at any time of day or night. Mark’s involvement with the City of Belleville began in 1997 when he was elected as a Belleville Alderman (Ward 5). In that role, he sat on and chaired numerous committees like the Economic Development and Annexation Committee, and the Keep Belleville Beautiful Committee. He was a member of the Master Sewer, Police and Fire, Health and Housing and West Main Improvement Committees.
As Mayor, Mark was a member of the Illinois Municipal League. He served on the board and then was elected president for the 2017–2018 term. The IML was very important to Mark as it helped him establish connections with leaders throughout the state of Illinois.
Mark’s commitment to service and working with people started long before he took office. Mark spent his childhood getting to know his neighbors as he worked a local paper route. At 17 years old, Mark started as a member of the Teamsters, working for Pete Gaerdner Funeral Home and Paramedic Ambulance Service. He worked there from 1973 until 1988. Anyone who knows Mark has heard at least a handful of “Pete Gaerdner” stories over the years, as he remembered his good friend and boss, as well as the many friends he made there. Mark was a graduate of the Southwestern Illinois Police Academy, and served as a St. Clair County Deputy Sheriff in 1978. He completed Law Enforcement and Paramedic EMT training at the former Belleville Area College, and worked as a volunteer Firefighter for Signal Hill Fire Department. In 1989, Mark began working for the American Red Cross as Coordinator of Emergency Services. He was later promoted to Territory Director for Blood Services where he finished out his employment in 1993. From 1996-2007, he and Rita owned and operated Maine Chimney Sweep Ltd. Incorporating their children into the family businesses at a young age, he and his son, Luke, spent many nights cleaning chimneys in various Cracker Barrel’s throughout the area. During this endeavor, he and Rita opened Eckert Florist. In 1999, Mark and Rita were able to dedicate their love for flowers and share the finest floral arrangements with Belleville and those in surrounding areas. With 24 years of business, they have been able to bring the joy of flowers to so many.
Mark promoted the volunteer spirit throughout the community, and spent much of his time volunteering for things that mattered to him. He volunteered with Hospice of Southern Illinois from 1982 to 1987, often working with children. He served as Scoutmaster for 12 years, and was there while his two sons, as well as 30 other scouts from his troop achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. In 1993, with the help of his late friend, Al Wunderlich, Mark co-founded the Franklin Neighborhood Community Association and served as Executive Director. He was past president at numerous organizations including the PTA of Henry Raab School, Belleville Main Street, St. Paul United Church of Christ, and the Southwestern Illinois Council of Mayors. He served on boards such as the St. Clair County Historical Society, the St. Elizabeth Hospital Advisory Board, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, and the Lindenwood University Board of Directors in St. Charles, Missouri. Mark was also honorary chairman of the Belle-Scott Committee and Belleville Sister Cities. In 2014, during the City of Belleville’s Bicentennial, Mark served on the City’s 200th Anniversary Committee. Serving as Mayor during this milestone was a profound moment in Mark’s life. 2014 also marked the first annual Christkindlmarkt. Ending the Bicentennial celebrations with the opportunity to bring new shoppers and families to Belleville was something Mark was very excited about. Throughout his years of service, Mark had ties to many other organizations within our community such as the Belleville Exchange Club, Racial Harmony, and South Side Improvement Association. Mark was a devoted leader. Everything he did was for the betterment of our community. He had a commitment to character, to building relationships, and to promoting volunteerism. He had a passion for helping others, but also bringing the ideas of so many to life.
Above all else, Mark loved and cherished his family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Robert H. and Shirley A., nee Frech, Eckert; and his brother, Michael (Jean) Eckert.
Despite his always busy schedule, he would drop anything to be there for his wife and children. After retirement, Mark was able to spend precious hours with his grandson, Noah, taking him to breakfast with dear friends many mornings and singing him songs from his days as a wedding singer every chance he had. He is survived by his loving wife of 37 years, Rita M., nee Herzog, Eckert, whom he married on April 5, 1986; his four children, Col. Matthew (Carly) Eckert, Kate (Jacob) Kotler, Luke (Erika) Eckert, and Lucy Eckert; his German son, Jan Schultze; his grandchildren, Jackson, Noah, Patrick, and Liam Eckert, and a fifth grandchild on the way; his niece and nephew, Beth (Scott) Jacob and Brian (Kati) Eckert; and his great-niece and great-nephews, Drew Eckert, Samantha Jacob, and Cooper Eckert.
As Mark always said, “Flowers can express so many feelings.” The Eckert family would like family and friends to keep in mind the Franklin Neighborhood Association and the District 118 Foundation were also so very dear to his heart. Condolences may be expressed to the family online at www.rennerfh.com.
Visitation: Friends may visit from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday, June 18, 2023, at St. Paul United Church of Christ, Belleville, IL, and from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday, June 19, 2023, St. Paul United Church of Christ, Belleville, IL.
Funeral: Funeral services will be held at 12 p.m. noon Monday, June 19, 2023, at St. Paul United Church of Christ, Belleville, IL.
Burial will be at Walnut Hill Cemetery, Belleville, IL.