IN MEMORIAM: St. Clair County Labor leader Denise E. Yunker, International Ladies Garment Union Local 450

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Belleville – Longtime union seamstress and highly respected St. Clair County Labor leader Denise E. Yunker, 92, of Belleville, died Saturday May 2 at Four Fountains Nursing Home.

Mrs. Yunker was a seamstress for 38 years, retiring from Miss Elaine’s Garment Factory in O’Fallon in 1987 as a member of the International Ladies Garment Union Local 450. The factory closed at the same time. She began there in 1957 when it was called Sel-Mar Garments. She served as local president, vice president and chair of the grievance committee.

Sister Yunker was honored as Labor Woman of the Year in 1994 by the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council, which she served as a delegate.

Mrs. Yunker was also well known for her work on the Belleville Union Label Committee, often being seen in the Union Label booth at the St. Clair County Fair.

Mrs. Yunker came from France where she was born in the city of Le Havre in Normandy in 1927 to Francois and Emilienne Le Roy. She married Thomas Oaks in 1946 and Claude Yunker in 1977. Both are deceased. 

Her children are Dennis Oaks of Belleville and John Oaks of Henderson, Nev., and two step-sons John Yunker and Donnie Yunker. She also leaves three grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

Terry Knoth, a Machinist and United Way Labor Liaison, said Yunker was well-regarded and will be missed. He recalled her from Union Label and Labor Council events including literature drops, the county fair and parades.

“I have known Denise since my early days, back to the Belleville Union Label Council,” he said. “She was an outstanding lady. The Labor Movement has lost a true unionist and activist. Rest in peace, Denise.”

Labor Council Secretary Joe Eble said she had a real impact on the council. “As one of the seamstress union’s delegates, she prided herself on trying to keep the ‘young fellas’ in line,” he said.

No public funeral was planned but a Facebook live stream of the funeral was tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. on May 16 at Valhalla Gaerdner Holten Funeral Home, Belleville. Memorials may be made to the Belleville Area Humane Society.

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