A reporter once asked John R. "Jack" Kreft Jr. to name his greatest accomplishment.
The former chief of the Addison Fire Protection District didn't mention any of the highlights from his 35-year career in the fire service.
Instead, Kreft talked about his children and grandchildren.
"He was a very loving husband and father," Linda Kreft said of her husband of 41 years. "His family came first to him above everything else."
Kreft died Wednesday morning after a four-month battle with lung cancer. The Addison resident was 62.
Members of the fire protection district are remembering Kreft as "a true firefighter."
"Even as he went up the ranks, he was still one of the guys that was a firefighter at heart," said Scott Heinrich, an Addison battalion chief and longtime friend of the Kreft family.
Kreft retired from Addison in 2006 after serving three decades with the fire protection district, including the final two years as chief.
But in his early 20s, Kreft was pursuing a different career path. He was a mortician in 1971 when he became a firefighter volunteer in Warrenville.
Linda Kreft said her husband's compassion motivated him to help others and become a public servant.
"He enjoyed the brotherhood of the fire department," she said.
So the Bensenville native became a full-time firefighter in that village before joining the Addison Fire Protection District in 1976.
Norm Sturm, the director of DuPage County's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, was a rookie Addison firefighter in 1979 when Kreft was assigned to train him.
Sturm says Kreft was a knowledgeable instructor.
"Jack was always somebody I know I could go to if I needed help with something or professional advice," Sturm said. "He was always there."
Kreft was promoted to lieutenant, then captain and eventually deputy chief. He became chief in 2004 when Tim Deutschle retired.
Heinrich said Kreft was an ideal leader because he could remain focused and keep his composure on the scene of an emergency.
"He was able to multi-task and keep everybody on track of what they're supposed to be doing," Heinrich said. "Jack was very good at that."
As deputy chief and chief, Kreft helped the district expand at a time when the fire service was evolving. "Jack was an integral part of bringing us into the new age that we are in now," Sturm said.
During retirement, Kreft regained his funeral director's license and was able to work with his son, who is a manager at Cuneo-Columbian Funeral Home in Franklin Park.
"It was one of the highlights that he absolutely enjoyed in his retirement," Linda Kreft said.
Visitation will be 2 to 9 p.m. Friday at Cuneo-Columbian Funeral Home, 10300 W. Grand Ave. Prayers will be said 9 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home.
A Mass will be 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Bensenville. Interment take place at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside.