The Press Newspaper
Janis Kennedy would have been married to her husband, John Thomas Kennedy, 68 years this year had he not perished in a fire in 1976.
Mr. Kennedy, who was a Jerusalem Township firefighter, died fighting a blaze off State Route 2 on October 17 that year.
With the passage of time, certain events fade from memory.
For Mrs. Kennedy, that ill-fated day is forever etched in her mind.
“Even after all these years, he remains very close to my heart,” she said.
Mr. Kennedy, who was 54-years-old, was asleep that Sunday morning when the call came in. The Sunset Fireworks Company on State Route 2 was on fire.
“It was a little after 7. He was hard of hearing in one ear, so I got him up,” she said. “He grabbed some clothes, and opened the back door. He said, `You better get dressed in case that thing explodes.’”
Their house was located just behind Sunset. Minutes later, she went to the window and watched it explode.
“They sky lit up like crazy,” she said.
As she walked down to the building, two firemen approached her.
“I looked up and said, `Johnny?’ And they said, `Yes.’”
“My neighbor took me to the hospital, but I never got to see him. They wouldn’t let me see him,” she said. “He didn’t burn. He was crushed. Cinder blocks had fallen on him.”
The night watchman was later arrested for starting the fire, recalled Mrs. Kennedy.
“He was sitting back, hiding in the grass, watching it. He liked fires. He already had one conviction.”
He was later convicted for starting the Sunset fire, she said, and was sentenced up to 10 years in prison, though he was released a couple years later.
The Sunset building was mostly destroyed. Mrs. Kennedy said she tried to keep the owner from rebuilding, but was unsuccessful.
“We went to court and tried to stop it, but we couldn’t,” she said.
Besides his wife, Mr. Kennedy left behind two children – his daughter Bonny and son John.
“He was a wonderful husband. He was always there for me and our kids,” she said.
Mrs. Kennedy fondly remembers her late husband as a “people person.”
“He was a very sympathetic person who was always concerned about people. He held the door open for people entering a building, or cleaned a car off for someone. He was always available for anyone who needed help.”
A hunter, she recalled one year when he happened upon a scene so touching, he packed away his hunting gear for good.
“He was sitting on the fence with a bow and arrow and a deer came by with two little ones. He never went hunting again,” she said.
They had been married 33 years at the time of his death.
They met at a skating rink in Forest Park off Woodville Road, just past Genoa.
“I had just gotten my high school class ring from Waite High School. He said, `Look at mine,’ which was from Sylvania. I told him mine was better looking,” she laughed.
“We started skating a lot. Soon, he asked me for a date. We went together for about a year. When I graduated from high school, we got married,” she said.
She was surprised when her husband, a meat cutter, became interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter.
“When we moved out to Jerusalem Township, some of his friends were firemen. It just sort of evolved. He never said a word about it before. Never,” she said.
Kennedy, a former Mason, received just $1 annually as a volunteer firefighter, she said.
No call was too insignificant, she said.
“He never missed a call when he was home,” she said. “Not once.”
She recalls one call, in particular, that came from a terrified young mother whose son had swallowed a penny. “They told her he would pass it. And a couple days later, she called to say he did.”
He was so dedicated, she never doubts for a moment he died doing what he wanted.
Twelve years ago, Jerusalem Township Trustees Linda Rossler, John Hansen, and Ray Cedoz would name a new 30-acre park off State Route 2 in his memory. Mrs. Kennedy said she was thrilled when she learned of the gesture.
She and her family were invited to the dedication at that time to hear Hansen christen the former farmer’s field the John T. Kennedy Park.
“It’s a very nice tribute,” she said.
She regularly ties a bouquet of flowers around the park’s sign, which displays her husband’s photo, on special occasions, such as his birthday and their wedding anniversary.
The current township trustees are planning to develop the passive park, with wetlands, walking trails, benches and picnic tables.