MUNSTER | Munster Fire Chief James J. Knesek Sr.’s 34 years of dedicated service to his community was apparent Thursday by the turnout for his funeral Mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church.
More than 100 firefighters from numerous departments across the region saluted in their dress blue uniforms as Knesek’s casket was carried into the church by his brothers from the Munster Fire Department.
Knesek, 59, died of an apparent heart attack Saturday. Although he was home at the time, he had just returned from the scene of a vehicle crash, so was considered on duty at the time of his death.
In addition to serving as fire chief since 2005, he was also the Public Works Department’s director of operations since 1995.
In his funeral Mass eulogy, the Rev. Michael Yadron talked about the man he knew, a man who was well-known and respected in his community. Referring to the large number of mourners in attendance, Yadron said, “That’s what a life well lived is all about.”
Knesek’s parish priest described him as someone who really felt connected to people and whose faith meant much to him. He reminded the firefighters that, in spirit, Knesek was still with them.
“If you believe you’ve lost a comrade, you’re still going to feel him by your side,” he said, adding that “Jim” would have no regrets.
“I truly believe if Jim knew what was going to happen last Saturday he would have done absolutely nothing different because day in and day out he served other people,” he said. “His job was to make other people safe ... that’s why in his early years he joined the military.”
The U.S. Army veteran’s impact on the community extended to his love of basketball, serving as an ISHAA referee and coach in the Catholic Youth Organization basketball league.
In remembrance of his counterpart on the Fire Department, Munster Police Chief Steve Schekel said, “He was a very dedicated public servant. He put in a lot of time to his job and he will be missed. He was taken from us far too young.”
Town Manager Tom DeGuilio said Knesek had only two jobs his entire adult life — the U.S. Army and working for Munster.
“He started off working on the back of a garbage truck,” he said. “He told me he would try to get done with his early so he could leave for the day and attend college full time at Lewis University.”
Mark Knesek served with his brother on the Munster Fire Department for the past nine years and also in the Public Works Department. James Knesek’s son, James Jr., is also a member of the Fire Department.
“It had to be hard for him to send his brother and son into a fire,” Mark Knesek said. “I thought about that often. It must have been horrible for him, but he never showed favoritism. He did what had to be done and was always on top of things.”
At the conclusion of the funeral service, Knesek’s casket was placed on a vintage Munster firetruck, which proceeded north on Calumet Avenue and east on Ridge Road to Calumet Park Cemetery. At Munster Town Hall, two ladder trucks, one from Calumet City and another from Lansing, raised ladders and flew the garrison flag over the street, as the procession stopped at for a moment of reflection.
Graveside, Knesek’s chief’s helmet was retired and given to his family. Concluding the ceremony, the Fire Department conducted a last call tone of radios, the traditional sounding of the fire bell, followed by taps, a military salute and bagpipe music.