A husband, friend, boss, colleague, valued employee, and Star Wars and Ghostbusters fanatic, Mark Lillquist worked to make a difference in his community and those far, far away.
A Polk State College staff member since January 2015, Mark died on July 14 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 50 years old.
“We worked really well together,” said George Urbano, District Director of Facilities. “We were partners on a lot of projects. We shared the same interest in protecting the College and doing what was best for the College. We always supported one another and just had this great working relationship.”
Urbano, who has spent 23 years at Polk State, said he and Mark hit it off almost instantly. One of their first interactions came when Urbano gave Lillquist a tour of the relatively new Center for Public Safety.
“I’d always try to make time to visit Mark in his office on campus,” Urbano said. “We all appreciated Mark. He was always up for a good story, or a joke and we just always had a good time.”
Angie Armbruster, Purchasing Specialist, spent two stints and five total years working under Mark in the Purchasing Department.
“He was a super kind boss,” she said. “He was super friendly and very knowledgeable. He had such a love for his family and his animals.”
Mark arrived at Polk State with 17 years of experience in purchasing. He began his Polk State career as Director of Purchasing and transitioned to Director of Procurement Services in 2021. Erin Montgomery, Executive Director for Business Affairs, was part of the hiring committee when Mark was an applicant.
“He was just such a unique individual,” Montgomery recalled. “He was caring and would leave little snacks around your office if you did something for him. He just enjoyed being around people. That was one of the things he really missed during COVID(-19).”
Mark held an associate degree from St. Petersburg College and a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida. During his career at Polk State, he oversaw business enterprise systems, asset record systems, and major bid processes.
“(When he was sick,) I always thought about him and hoped he’d improve,” Urbano said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a painless journey. I always tried to be a friend and helped him with what I could as he recovered.”
Mark is survived by his wife Jenny, mother Joyce, and brother Marshall.
“He was very family-oriented,” Armbruster recalled. “I’m a grandmother and when something came up, he was very understanding. Family always came first.”
In addition to his service at Polk State, Mark was a proud member of both the Suncoast Ghostbusters, a local Ghostbusters volunteer costuming organization, and the 501st Legion, an international Star Wars volunteer organization, both of which give back at fundraisers and charity events.
As a member of each group, Mark dressed as various Star Wars and Ghostbusters characters, would offer his time with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and visit children’s hospitals in hopes of providing cheer to children battling serious illness. He discussed his volunteer efforts during a December 2018 POLKcast episode.
The Tampa Bay Squad of the 501st Legion offered a heartfelt goodbye on Facebook over the weekend. Mark had been a part of the Tampa-based affiliate for more than a decade.
“Also known as TK-6653, Mark recently celebrated 10 years of service to the empire,” a portion of the post read. “In that time, he along with his wife, Jenny, helped Tampa Bay Squad grow into one of the largest squads in the legion and flourish as a staple in the Tampa Bay community. To Mark, the squad was more than just a costume club – it was his family – and the resounding consensus is that Mark made any and all feel welcome here. For a majority of our members, their earliest experiences in the squad involved Mark in some way, whether it was an armor party at his house, his welcoming spirit at a troop, or a stream of tears on their cheeks from laughing at his unrivaled sense of humor. We can say with absolute certainty that our squad is forever marked by his presence and will never be the same.”
Traditionally sporting a long beard, Montgomery said his friends affectionately referred to Lillquist as a “Wookiee” – a fictional species from Star Wars. Star Wars was a topic that Urbano and Lillquist spoke of often. Urbano recalled buying Lillquist a T-shirt with character Chewbacca, a Wookiee, across the front.
“We always talked about his interest in Star Wars,” Urbano said. “When I’d be out and about and I’d see something Star Wars-related, I’d always think about him.”
Tattoos featuring images from Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and other passions ran down Mark’s arms. Armbruster said it wasn’t hard to figure out what Lillquist’s passions were.
“He absolutely loved Star Wars, but he was also a big LEGO freak,” she said. “There were always LEGOs on display in the office.”
Another love for Mark, Montgomery recalled, was food. Born in February, Mark’s birthday typically occurred while the Florida State Fair in Tampa was taking place.
“Every year for his birthday, he’d go to the State Fair and eat bad,” Montgomery laughed. “He loved food. He’d come back to work and tell us all about it.”
In lieu of a traditional funeral service, a gathering will be held at Cigars International, 2691 Creek Grass Wy, Lutz, Fla., on Sunday, Aug. 14 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“He had a big heart,” Montgomery said. “He cared about people, cared about the College, and was just an all-around good guy. We’re certainly going to miss him.”