Thursday, April 19, 2012
In nearly equal amounts of laughter and tears Wednesday, mourners sounded the last alarm for Huntley Fire Capt. John “Winky” Winkelman, who was killed in Crystal Lake last week while riding his motorcycle.
More than 450 people filled St. John’s Lutheran Church in Union for Winkelman’s funeral, about 300 of them his own department and others — among them Huntley, Carpentersville, East Dundee, Crystal Lake, Fox River Grove, Hampshire, Cary, Marengo and Pingree Grove. As well, firefighters’ spouses rode a pair of chartered buses to the funeral so their other halves could carry out the funeral services and procession, Huntley Deputy Fire Chief Ken Caudle said.
Winkelman, 54, of Marengo, was remembered as the quintessential man next door who could never sit still, who loved his job and had an eye for detail. For example, if you moved the sports section of his newspaper to another place or moved his chair just a few inches, he’d notice.
Winkelman, a 24-year veteran of the Huntley Fire Protection District was a man of few words, who preferred to silently analyze a situation before speaking, Huntley Fire Chief Jim Saletta said.
Even when the pressure was on, he never got rattled.
Huntley Capt. Scott Ravagnie remembered that as a rookie he battled one of his first fires on Manning and Big Timber roads. Winkelman, he said, took him under his wing, quietly coached him through it and never lost his cool.
“Your boots will be hard to fill and you will never be forgotten,” Ravagnie said.
Winkelman also knew how to make people laugh.
There was the story about Winkelman dismantling a broken lamp to see what was wrong with it, only to find that the light bulb was burned out, said The Rev. Tim Schutt, chaplain of Marengo Fire and Rescue District and the church’s pastor.
He also loved playing practical jokes on people by scaring them with a tap on the shoulder.
Huntley Deputy Chief Keith Mallegni knew Winkelman for 40 years and talked about his love of food, including pork rinds and kiwi fruit, and how Winkelman left a bottle of bourbon for him before he took off for a vacation.
“I love him, I’m going to miss him,” Mallegni said through tears. “He was one of my best friends and they’ll always be a special place in my heart for him and I thank the Lord I got to know him.”
Winkelman was reared in Marengo and graduated from Marengo High School in 1976.
He was part of the Marengo Rescue Squad for 18 years and eventually became its chief. He worked as a volunteer firefighter for the Huntley Fire Protection District before joining full time in 1991.
To a man, he had a huge heart. He went down to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help, an action for which he won a humanitarian award. He was so gentle that squirrels ate food right out of his hand. He took to grooming the firehouse cat with his own comb.
Winkelman was killed Thursday while riding his Harley-Davidson in Crystal Lake on Route 176 near Mt. Thabor Road. Kimberly Randall, 27, of Woodstock was ticketed for running a stop sign. Winkelman was on his way home from a district communications committee meeting and died on duty, which meant he was entitled to full firefighter honors Wednesday.
During the service, Winkelman’s three daughters read verses from the Bible. And as the bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” near the end of the service, many firefighters started to cry.
“We’re still going to cry today and tomorrow and so forth,” Schutt said. “And I’m here to tell you, that’s OK. That’s natural. That’s life.”