Will Lepeska, a beloved businessman who overcame a difficult youth to start a dozen companies and raise eight children, died Saturday morning Nov. 21, 2015 peacefully in his sleep, according to his family. He was 83.
From pizza parlors to medical appliances and radioactive isotopes, Lepeska boldly embraced each new business idea -- and may have saved his best for last.
Wisconsin Medical Cyclotron, a West Allis-based firm that makes radioactive chemicals to help in medical testing and diagnoses, “found a wildly profitable niche,” according to a 2010 story about the company in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The firm's size and value soared in the decade after its 2003 launch, putting a capstone on a well-lived life and cementing Lepeska’s impact on the field of nuclear medicine.
“Will was a father figure to a whole generation in our field -- kind, very astute, and possessing a warm humor,” Dr. Jerry Nickles, a highly regarded professor of medical physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in an email. “We miss him already.”
Wilfred James Lepeska was born on November 6, 1932 – the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt was first elected president – in Lonsdale, Minnesota, to Ludmilla and John Lepeska.
His mother passed away a year later, and his father deserted the family shortly thereafter. Lepeska was raised in New Prague, Minnesota, by his mother’s parents, Wenceslaus and Rose Schoenbauer, as were his older siblings John (Jack) and Genevieve (Gen).
All three attended St. Wenceslaus Catholic Grade School and New Prague High School, where Lepeska played offensive lineman and earned the nickname “Lopper,” on account of his terribly flat feet.
The Schoenbauers could not afford college so Lepeska applied for, and was awarded, an NROTC scholarship to Marquette University. But after being accepted to Marquette, he failed to pass his NROTC physical exam due to his flat feet.
With enough money to cover just one semester at Marquette’s Engineering School, he left for Milwaukee anyway, and upon arrival went straight to the financial aid office to fill every available application and take all possible aid tests. He was soon awarded a full four-year scholarship.
Lepeska graduated with an electrical engineering degree in 1954 and applied for an engineering sales position with Nuclear Chicago, a nuclear instruments manufacturing company. After holding several regional manager positions, he became Vice President of Marketing in 1962, and the following year passed a seven-week management course at Harvard University's Graduate School of Business.
Also in 1962, Lepeska met Marilyn Knapp at a luau on one of Chicago's Lake Michigan beaches. After a story-book courtship the couple married in 1963, and had eight children in rapid succession – all born from 1964 to 1974.
Lepeska left Nuclear Chicago in 1968 and embarked on his long entrepreneurial phase. He founded Hospital Financial Corporation, a medical equipment leasing firm, that same year. It later became his private investment firm.
In the decades that followed he invested in or helped launch a computer rental firm, a developer of ultrasound technologies, a Chicago software firm, a medical equipment repair firm, a pizza-shop-in-bowling-alleys franchise, where he developed a renowned pizza recipe, and an international cyclotron consultancy that continues to work today across the US and in several locations in the Middle East.
Lepeska was known to be generous with his time and resources and seemed to enjoy himself when helping friends and strangers alike. Around Christmastime, he could be found leading his children and grandchildren to area nursing homes to sing carols to the elderly. And he was heavily involved in the local St Vincent De Paul society, where he helped many troubled people begin to rebuild their lives.
In 2013, isoSolutions, a nuclear medicine and radioisotope firm founded by Lepeska’s long-time friend and colleague, David Drummond, sponsored the creation of the Armstrong-Lepeska Science Marketing Scholarship, at Langara College in Vancouver, British Columbia. The annual scholarship is awarded to a talented science student who completes a course in marketing, and honors Lepeska and Brian Armstrong, pioneers in the marketing of nuclear medicine, according to the scholarship, who played a critical role in bringing new developments from the lab to the public.
Lepeska is remembered as a loving father, uncle, brother, friend, and grandfather, a bold yet wise businessman, an old-school gourmand who tinkered tirelessly to perfect his marinara, a master of the perfectly placed, deftly worded witticism, and a deeply committed fan, and part owner, of his beloved Green Bay Packers.
Lepeska is survived by his loving wife of 52 years, Marilyn, his eight children (William, Leslie, Michael, Laurie, Peter, Mary Lou, David, and Jonathan), and 11 grandchildren.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11:00AM Friday Nov. 27, 2015 at St. John the Evangelist Church 701 N. Lake Ave. Twin Lakes, WI. Interment will be in St. John’s Cemetery. The Lepeska Family will receive friends from 9:00AM until the time of Mass at the Church. Memorial remembrances may be made to St. Vincent de Paul % St. John’s Conference 701 N. Lake Ave. Twin Lakes, WI 53181. For online guestbook: haaselockwoodfhs.com. The Haase-Lockwood & Assoc. Funeral Home of Twin Lakes is serving the Lepeska Family.