Frank Kania was the life of the party at his 100th birthday bash, held Aug. 2 at the assisted living facility in Hoffman Estates where he lived.
Dressed in a sport coat and tie, he drew nearly 60 guests to fill the community room at the Emeritus at Hoffman Estates, including Mayor Bill McLeod and state Rep. Fred Crespo, who both read proclamations.
"He was so sharp and had a great sense of humor," McLeod said. "His children and grandchildren were there. It was wonderful."
Just eight days later, Kania died.
"He really wanted to make that 100th birthday," his daughter, Joette Brown of Inverness, said. "He felt like he was king for a day."
Just two years earlier, Kania was hailed as a hero when he joined 92 other World War II veterans on Honor Flight Chicago, a day of remembrance and celebration in Washington, D.C.
Kania served three years in the Army during World War II. Trained as a butcher out of high school in Chicago, he worked initially in food service with his first unit in Australia before he was assigned to unload cargo from supply ships at his next base in New Guinea.
One of his more unusual jobs had him serving as a photographer for USO shows and entertainers. He shot photos of such stars as Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Phyllis Brooks, Una Merkle and Patty Thomas.
Family members say that the Honor Flight trip rekindled memories of those years as well as a sense of peace as he visited the many monuments in the nation's capital.
One of the most poignant moments came at the Iwo Jima Memorial, where Kania reflected on brother Johnny, a staff sergeant, who had been shot by a sniper on the island during the second day of action.
When the group of veterans returned to Midway Airport, police and firefighters greeted them on the tarmac with blaring sirens and with formal salutes. Airport patrons cheered as they made their way through the concourse, and Patriot Guard members honored them outside.
"It was the welcome home they never got," Kania's daughter said. "It was a glorious day."
After the war, Kania returned to his grocery business in Chicago. He married Anne Smreczak in 1949, and their daughter was born in 1952. Kania eventually worked as a butcher and later manager for the National Tea Co.
He retired in 1979 and moved to Hoffman Estates in 2005, where he was spotted around town -- up until two years ago -- driving his silver PT Cruiser with a decal that read: "Peace Be With You Always."
Kania was preceded in death by his wife, Anne. Besides his daughter, he is survived by two granddaughters.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. today at Holy Family Catholic Church, 2515 Palatine Road in Inverness.