Former U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, a Republican who served suburban Detroit's Oakland County for 16 years after a career in insurance, died Tuesday at 84.
Michigan State Sen. Marty Knollenberg said his father died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at a memory care facility in Troy, where he lived for 2 ½ years.
Knollenberg was born in 1933 in Mattoon, Illinois, where he grew up on a farm with 12 siblings. After getting a bachelor's degree and serving in the Army, he started working in insurance and transferred to Michigan. He ended up running his own insurance agency.
Knollenberg was elected to Congress in 1992 at 59— his first elected office. He had been chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party, a district chairman and president and founder of a local GOP club.
Marty Knollenberg said his father ran at the urging of retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Broomfield, who had become a friend.
"When he ran for Congress it was a surprise to a lot of people — he never indicated it was his ambition," Knollenberg said of his father, who had been involved in his children's schools, nonprofit organizations and his church, where he played banjo and guitar. "It was his involvement in the local community for 30 years that people recognized that Joe Knollenberg is a guy I can get behind. ... Suddenly, they could identify with the guy next door."
Knollenberg chaired the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee.
Democrat Gary Peters, now a U.S. senator, beat Knollenberg in November 2008. Peters said in a statement that Knollenberg "worked tirelessly to represent the people" of southeastern Michigan.
"Joe was a true statesman and a well-respected gentleman — exactly the kind of person you want to see in public service," Peters said.
Joe Knollenberg also is survived by his wife of 55 years, Sandie, and another son, Steve.