As crowds gathered at in Oak Lawn Monday to honor the memory of John Kuenster, whispers could be heard of how great a sportswriter and storyteller he was.
But although he’s walked the dugouts of World Series games, touched the Stanley Cup while reporting on the Chicago Blackhawks and interviewed some of baseball’s greats like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Early Wynn, Mr. Kuenster was more than a sportsman. He considered his greatest accomplishment to be his family, says son Robert Kuenster, of Oak Forest.
“I asked him what his greatest accomplishment was, and we were talking about his career. Without a blink of an eye, he said ‘my greatest accomplishments were you kids,’” recalled Kuenster. “'You guys are our legacy,'” his father told him.
Mr. Kuenster, 87, died of cardiac arrest April 2 at . As a resident of Evergreen Park for 62 years, Kuenster was an author, sportswriter for several religious publications and the Chicago Daily News, and longtime editor of Evanston-based Baseball Digest magazine, a job he held until his death.
Hundreds of family members and friends stopped by to pay tribute, slowly peering at galleries of Mr. Kuenster in his several stages of life.
Upon graduating from college, the now managing editor joined his father at the magazine and recalls driving to and from work with him.
“The greatest memories were of the talks that we’d have,” Kuenster said, “these chats about family and sports,” on the 90-minute ride. “At the end of every conversation, he’d say ‘And that’s your history lesson for today,’” remembered Kuenster.
His storytelling ability was incomparable, Kuenster said. “People would come up to him and ask him a question about his career, and before you knew it, there were 20 people around him listening,” said Kuenster.
Mr. Kuenster also frequently shared stories about friends who went into the military, times that were tough for him. Diagnosed with diabetes at age 17, Mr. Kuenster didn’t have the chance to serve in the military, although people saw him as a “strapping” young man in top shape. “People would look at him and ask, ‘why aren’t you in the military, serving, when we need you,’” Kuenster shared. “I think it hurt him and he told me that it did. It really bothered him that he couldn’t.”
Kathe Mulcahy, Mr. Kuenster’s eldest child, recalled seeing major sports figures walk through the family living room when she was younger.
“He did used to tease me about Bobby Hull! My heart was fluttered, and my dad always teased me about that. I got all red in the face and I went in the room and sprayed perfume all on myself,” Mulcahy said letting out a soft laugh.
“That was always a lot of fun, but the most important part was our family get-togethers,” she said. The family had gotten so huge that they could no longer hold holiday get-togethers in someone’s home. They had to rent out a hall. “He lived for those parties ... he loved being the patriarch ... and those were his happiest times, when he was with us.”
Kuenster said working with his father was fun, but tough and helped make him a better writer. He had a heavy editing hand on his work. But it wasn’t until Mr. Kuenster co-wrote “To Sleep With Angels,” chronicling the story of a fire at Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels elementary school that claimed the lives of 92 children and three nuns in 1958, that Kuenster realized his father’s talent.
“The first copy of the book came to the office when he wasn’t at work…I spent my whole day at work reading the book, and I realized how talented a writer he was,” said Kuenster. “Everyone appreciated the way he covered it.” Having a young family himself at the time and covering the story, Mulcahy said the story “touched him so much, because he was trying to put himself in the spot of the parents and the terror that they went through.”
While the family will always remember Mr. Kuenster for his infectious smile, love for his family, and stories, Kuenster said he may want to bring his memory back to life and write a book about him. But he’s “just considering it for now.”
A funeral mass will be said at 9:30 a.m. at 9525 S. Lawndale Ave. in Evergreen Park.