Edward Jankowski, 97, passed away this past Wednesday night of natural causes. He is survived by his son Jack Jankowski, his son’s extended family and a grandson, Chris Heuer (that’s me). Jack’s son Tony Jankowski recounts Ed’s pride and happiness to know that the Jankowski name is carried on through his children, and now their children, where recently 5 generations of Jankowski were photographed together beginning with Ed, his son Jack, Jack’s son Tony, Tony’s sons (AJ, Tyler, Clayton) and AJ’s son Tristan.
Ed was a kind, faithful, friendly and happy man with a keen mind who was loved by all who knew him, and all he met. Active well into his 90’s, he played golf five days a week until arthritis and artificial knees with expired warranties denied him his mobility and grace at the age of 92. Old age had begun to take its toll the last several years, but his warm smile and character never suffered.
A grave side memorial service will be held on Saturday November 9, 2013 at 11am at Woodlawn Caballero Cemetery and Funeral Home in Kendall on 107th Avenue where he will be buried next to his wife, Louise Jankowski.
Born in 1916, he saw the depression through the eyes of a teenager, eating so much chicken as a child, he would never eat it again in his life. The son of immigrants from Lithuania and Poland, he lived a comfortable middle class life with over 36 years in retirement. His life was rich with experiences uncommon for most men of that era. He lived an active lifestyle boating, fishing, golfing and spending as much time in the sun as he could after many cold winters shoveling snow in his native Chicago. His life was largely defined by the love he had for his wife, Louise, with whom he spent more then 50 years of his life. Though she passed in 1993 a few months after Hurricane Andrew tore through the home in Perrine, FL that he and the rest of his extended family had called home since 1976, he remained faithful to her until the day he died.
After working at a parking garage in Chicago for a number of years in his younger years, he was promoted to the role of driver for a family businessman who owned many downtown Chicago garages in the 1930’s. He was fortunate to be off on the day in which his boss, his replacement driver and several others were gunned down in a Chicago Gangland Shooting at a barber shop in a style all too typical of that era. After proving he was not involved in the incident to the satisfaction of the owners family and colleagues, he got another job, which ultimately lead him to the career of his lifetime as a machinist in a factory.
When WWII broke out, with a newly born daughter with Cerebral Palsy, he was able to stay away from the front lines while supporting the war effort building B-25 bombers, routing miles and miles of electrical harnesses for hundreds of planes. When the war was over he found work at Continental Can/Whitecap building, running and maintaining the machinery that produced cans and the tops to bottles and jars. He was exceptional as a machinist and could figure out any engineering problem easily with his sharp mind and soft heart, building close ties with both co-workers and management.
In the early 1950’s he left the city of Chicago behind to move to the suburbs of Glenview, IL where he literally built his first house which stood till just a few years ago at 34 Lincoln Street. His can do spirit inspired his children, Amanda and Jack. He loved them dearly though he could never really tell them, as the stoic men of his era didn’t have that sort of emotional expression in their repertoire. He gave his daughter Amanda every chance for success by encouraging her to live a life of a normal child as best as possible despite her Cerebral Palsy. Ultimately she was one of the first ‘handicapped’ children to ever graduate from a public high school in the Chicago school system.
He stayed with the same company for over 25 years until taking an early retirement at 61 to move along with the entire extended family, including his wife’s sister’s family to live near each other in Miami. He would say, “it’s just too damn cold. I want to be where it’s warm.”
His daughter Amanda lived with him throughout her life except for brief marriages to Leo Heuer, the father of her only child, Chris, and the second love of her life Frank, until her untimely death in 1995 from Cirrhosis after a life long struggle grappling with the frustration inherent in a brilliant mind and beautiful soul trapped in a broken body. Ed’s gregariousness was passed down to his family and you can see him in their smiles and when they smile through their eyes. Mandy as she liked to be called, touched as many if not more lives then Ed did learning to roller skate, volunteer in her son’s school and being a recognized member of the communities in which she lived.
Ed and his wife Louise loved to just get in the car and drive. Every winter vacation would involve a drive from Chicago to Miami Beach, through Louise’s home state of Kentucky to visit with family and friends. In later years, before her death, they would drive from Miami to Naples where they would stay a few days at their favorite beachfront hotel listening to the waves roll in and watching the sunset. They never did get to Las Vegas together, a lifelong dream, but through their senior citizens club at St Louis Church in South Miami, they would often go over to the Bahamas on day trips aboard Sea Escape, or to Orlando to visit Disney World. When Epcot opened they took their grandson where he saw and was forever enraptured by a technology driven future and the realization that we could always develop new ideas to make the world a little better – a trip that ignited his imagination and set the stage for his entire life.
Mostly, Ed and Louise just sat together, read, and held hands. While he didn’t express his love in verbal ways, the light of love shined brightly in his eyes whenever he would look at her, ensuring that everyone, especially her, knew the depth and breadth of his heart. Every day after work at the factory she would welcome him home, he would make his martini, kick off his shoes and sit back in his La-Z-Boy to enjoy a pipe before dinner. She was briefly a cook for a high school and was a wizard in the kitchen, but most importantly she was a guiding force as the matriarch of the extended family.
In Miami he had to wait several years till he was able to get a spot as a member at Briar Bay Golf Course, where he played every weekday for almost 30 years. Between the golf course and his senior citizen club, he watched as way too many of his friends and family passed away, with only a handful of people who knew him still on this earth today. He and his friends would always get to the course early and vie for a position to be the first to tee off. He made friends easily, always courteous, always smiling and always with a witty comment at the ready.
Even though he was retired, he joined a business men’s bowling league at Don Carter’s Bowling Center where he bowled every Thursday night from the late-1970’s until the early 1990’s. For some reason he took his grandson with him (me), feeding him quarters to play video games, buying him French fries and letting him play pool. His teammates always got a kick out of the way his grandson exchanged bards and smiles with him, occasionally celebrating his multiple strikes and high scores, but mostly giving him shit and warning him to ‘not choke’. Even then, he still smiled and laughed, and his teammates were encouraging to that young child as it persisted until he went off to college, and even then occasionally when he returned for a visit. After picking up a bit of golf in college, Ed half-jokingly remarked to his grandson that he never took him to the golf course because that was the only place he could find peace and quiet.
His daughter’s cerebral palsy was bad enough that she couldn’t bowl in the traditional way. But there was a bowling league for people with disabilities, and every Saturday night he took her, his wife and his grandson to that league where they volunteered and she learned how to use a special ramp to direct the ball down the lanes. Ultimately, unhappy with the quality of the ramps that they loaned out, he built her a new and better one, and he ultimately built several for other members of the league. That ramp increased her average by almost 20 points to the delight of both son and daughter.
Bowling ran in the family, and the family spent a lot of time at Don Carter’s Bowling Center with his grandson ultimately getting a small college scholarship for the sportsmanship he displayed in his traveling league, a trait that was most certainly imbued in him by Ed.
After outliving both his wife and his daughter, Ed was fortunate to have many friends with whom we would occasionally go out to dinner and often play penny ante poker one day every week. While he was often alone, he was never truly lonely, until the last of his friends also passed and his body gave way to old age.
His son Jack and his wife Joanne ultimately took him in to their home after getting to the point where he was no longer adequately taking care of himself. They looked after him for nearly a decade, ensuring that he didn’t have to go into an institution for his final years. Only a few days after going into hospice last week, he passed away at approximately 8:10pm the day after his wife’s birthday, November 6, 2013.
I’m sad that I wasn’t there for him at the end, to help guide him, to give him comfort and to let him know it was ok, that he was loved. What he did for me can’t be put into words. When Louise passed, I was living in Philadelphia and they didn’t want to worry me because they knew I would want to fly down there to be by her side, so they called me the night before the triple bypass from which she ultimately didn’t emerge. I told her in that call that it was ok, that she could let go if she wanted to and that I would do my best to look after Ed and Mandy. I know she was staying around to do that job herself.
Unfortunately I didn’t know that Ed had been slipping the last couple of weeks, and worse the last couple of times I did call, I wasn’t able to get him on the phone because he was either sleeping or in the bathroom. I didn’t call enough in the final weeks because it had grown too difficult to talk to him when he just repeatedly told me about his medical struggles and his desire to just die and be done. Our wonderful family doctor, Dr. Zimmerman, had said for 20+ years that he would live to be 100. He was almost right.
When both my mom and grandma passed away, I asked grandpa Ed a big favor. I asked him “Please don’t die before I have kids. I want them to know you.” He was such an amazing man and I was so selfish. I know in part he hung on because of this request. We had a very special bond, more then just grandfather and grandson. We had become friends from those nights in the bowling alley and all the times he drove me around to football practice, to my computer programming classes at community college to school events and yes, to Disney World/Epcot.
He taught me to drive in Cutler Ridge mall. He gave me his favorite car and I wrecked it less then two weeks later, though not my fault. He not only ensured that I was able to go to college and get the first college degree in our family, but he loaned me money to start InfoApps in 1999, and again when I got into financial trouble when my consulting work wasn’t going well. He was my rock. I am who I am because of the opportunities, support and love he gave me.
When I saw him last in June, I took him to buy new shoes. We went to Florsheim and ended up buying what he told me was the most expensive pair of shoes he ever owned. We went to Outback Steakhouse for his favorite meal with my aunt and uncle as we did for almost all of my visits over the last decade. When we were alone I told him that it was ok, that he could let go and that when he was ready he could move on. It was a difficult conversation, as he never knew how to respond to such direct and emotional discussions. But he nodded, understanding.
I left that evening and wept for almost 15 minutes as I drove up the Palmetto. I had a sense that it was likely the last time I was going to see him. Of course I hoped differently, and we had planned to see him this Thanksgiving for one of the first holiday meals together in many years.
Instead, I cashed in those tickets to pay for the trip to his funeral this weekend.
Don’t ever hesitate to call or visit. Don’t ever hesitate to express love. Don’t ever think something doesn’t matter. Everything matters. Every word. Every deed. Every thought. Every heartfelt gesture. Make the most of them all with the loved ones you have while you have them.
I was fortunate to have had him in my life as long as I did. But I still feel robbed. Yes, I go on, and we persist. I have a wonderful wife and a crazy happy life where I get to enjoy the world more then most, compensation perhaps for early struggles and difficult days. But I have what I have because he, and my grandmother and my mother believed in me and gave me a loving home and every opportunity to become something greater then where we started. That love and encouragement made me believe in myself enough, and find enough courage to try to make a difference in this world. Sometimes it is that courage to try that is all that is needed to inspire others, but without love, respect and compassion in the intention of the work, it would be nothing and I would have nothing.
I learned all of that and more from Edward Peter Jankowski, my gramps. He was my best friend. I will miss him so much. I just want to play 9 more holes with him, or share one more meal, or just one more loving embrace. I won’t be able to do that again, but I have 44 years of memories, more then most get with their grandparents, and for that I am forever grateful.
Given his condition of late, I must admit I am happy he is not suffering any longer, it was indeed time to go, and I am sure my grandma had something to do with it, helping him shuttle off his mortal coil and join her in spirit.
After the inevitable grieving over the next few days and weeks ahead, I will celebrate his life and I will go on. Through my life, Edward Peter Jankowski, his big heart, his infectious smile and his legacy of kindness to all will live on.
UPDATE: During the funeral service I spoke with my cousin Tony and updated the obituary to reflect conversations Ed had with him about his son’s extended family carrying on the Jankowski name. The story of my name is much more complicated. We should have changed it to Jankowski, but I just got used to it. Though I never knew my father, and my mother remarried to become a DeNormandie, I felt that since I was born a Heuer I would remain a Heuer.
The service was simple. We had a brief open casket viewing on the parlor which I had thought I would forego, but after his son told me he looked peaceful we went into the room to see him and say good bye. I felt a much lighter feeling then I expected and was glad to see him one last time. At the graveside, after the preacher read some bible passages I gave a short eulogy to celebrate his life and basically told everyone to read this if they wanted to hear the rest. Facebook posts referenced as eulogies. Wow. But how appropriate. I think he would have been embarrassed knowing how many lives he touched through this post and the one I made to Facebook the day after he died. For me though, I was glad to let people know how special he was, and how much he touched this world and how much he shaped me. I am forever grateful to have had him in my life so long.