Mark Evans, an Elk Grove Village resident and military veteran known for shipping thousands of pizzas to troops overseas, died last Friday. He was 58.
Evans was lauded for starting Pizzas4Patriots, a nonprofit organization dedicated to delivering pizzas to military service members.
The group sent more than 250,000 pizzas to combat zones worldwide on the Fourth of July and later during Super Bowl Sunday, serving more than 1.5 million troops since 2008.
"My dad only wanted to bring some well wishes from back home to our soldiers who put their lives on the line every day in faraway nations," his son, Kent Evans, said in a news release from the village. "He had tremendous passion and a gift for sharing his vision to assist others."
In a Daily Herald report published in 2013, Mark Evans credited his son with the idea for the charity and his parents, Bob and Clara, for planting the seed years earlier.
"I really respected my dad for what he did. I wanted to be like him," Evans said during the interview, explaining how his dad and mom got married after their service in World War II and raised seven kids. "My parents are responsible people. Do your duty and then think about yourself."
After graduating from Elk Grove High School, Evans enlisted in the Air Force Reserve and had risen to the rank of master sergeant when he was called to active duty. He served in Africa, Central America, Japan, Area 51 in the Mojave Desert, and the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.
Evans first shipped 50 pizzas to troops in Bosnia during the 1990s. The effort became an organized mission when Kent asked whether soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq had pizza, prompting Evans to email then-Gen. David Petraeus with his plan to ship 300 pizza for July 4.
The nonprofit, which is still active, would go on to raise thousands of dollars and serve hot pizza to service members throughout the world.
"This is impressive volunteer work performed by Mark and his entire volunteer community to benefit those who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for democracy," Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, a lifelong friend of Evans, said in the news release. "We will all miss Mark Evans deeply."
Evans recently retired from AT&T after several decades. In addition to his son, Evans is survived by his daughters, Melissa and Samantha. The family plans to continue running Pizzas4Patriots.
A wake for Evans will be from 3 to 9 p.m. today at Grove Memorial Chapel in Elk Grove Village. His funeral is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at the chapel.
Donations may be sent in Evans' name to Pizzas4Patriots at sgtpizza.com.