Every night, just before bed, he’d thank his bride of 70 years for giving him another wonderful day on Earth.
That was the sweet-hearted nature of Jack Krieger, my family’s next-door neighbor for more than 30 years.
I first met him as a very young boy, shortly after my growing family moved to our brand new suburban house in 1964.
As I grew up, I knew him as the dad of five children, a good neighbor and an usher at our church.
Jack and his wife, Mary, would become lifelong friends with my parents, but I didn’t know the full story of his life until last week.
He was born in 1927, the youngest of four sons, to a homemaker mother and an accountant father.
Baby Jack’s future looked promising — until the economy collapsed and the Great Depression hit his family hard.
His father lost his accounting job at the now defunct Pittsburgh Stock Exchange, then the house, and then the family had to separate and move in with relatives. It took years of struggle before his family was reunited in its own home.
In 1939, when Jack turned 12, the nun who taught his seventh grade class at St. Canice elementary school changed his life when her seating arrangements paired each boy and girl in her class from the best students on down.
Jack was the second smartest boy in his class, so he was seated next to Mary Schertzinger, the second smartest girl.
Jack and Mary’s lifelong friendship commenced and in the 12th grade — after being prodded by the parish priest — Jack finally overcame his shyness and asked Mary on a date.
After high school, Jack entered the Army just as World War II was winding down. After serving two years, he used the GI Bill to pay for an accounting degree. He joined a large aluminum maker in Pittsburgh and he and Mary got married.
Richie arrived a year later, followed by Billy, Nancy, Donny and Linda.
To provide well for his family, Jack worked harder and harder at his job. At his peak he had more than 30 people reporting to him. Sick or not, in 30 years he never missed a day of work.
His parents had died young, as did all three of his older brothers, who died in their 60s. All suffered fatal heart attacks.
He and Mary lived frugally, which gave him the opportunity to retire at 53 and enjoy the rest of his life.
Jack and Mary spent time with family (10 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren), traveled, played cards, went bowling and golfing, and, almost every month, met old friends like my parents for lunch or dinner.
“He always had a smile on his face and brought joy everywhere he went,” my father told me. “He was one of the most decent men I ever met.”
Jack Krieger lived until a few days shy of his 94th birthday. He wasn’t famous or rich.
He was devoted to his surviving wife and his family, paid his bills on time, generously supported charities and his church, and never missed an opportunity to vote.
Our country has flourished because of giants like him — people whose sense of duty, selflessness and example make it possible for the rest of us to enjoy wonderful days on Earth.
Copyright 2021 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at [email protected]