When Jaclynn Kreider was a young girl, her father, Jack Kriegl, was her hero. They enjoyed many of the same things – playing sports, Green Bay Packers football, skiing, hunting, trapping, and spending time outdoors.
“He was my favorite person. I respected him and looked up to him so much. I always knew I was so much like him in the good things and the bad things, too. My mom said I had him on a pedestal. But really, everyone did.
“Even when I was a kid and he had to discipline me, there was never a verbal blast. He reacted in a way that made me think, ‘Oh my gosh—I disappointed the one person I never, ever wanted to disappoint.’”
Jack, a loving and engaged father, was in tune with the needs of his four children. It didn’t matter what their interests were; he supported them and cheered them on.
“There was a period of time when my sister, Aundrea, was in pageants,” Jaclynn said. “What did Dad know about pageants? But he learned about them and even went on to judge them so she’d know what she did was important to him. He never tried to lead us to do what he wanted us to do or be what he wanted us to be. He let us choose, and we knew he’d be our biggest fan.”
At the end of Jaclynn’s high school career, she was deciding between attending college at Florida or Michigan Tech. Jack sat her down and told her it was her decision and he would support her choice, but he would rather have her close. “His chin would quiver whenever he was emotional,” she said. “His chin quivered during this conversation –I knew.”
Jaclynn met her husband Jason at Michigan Tech, where they both played basketball. Jack and Simone seldom missed a game. “Mom picked out Jason for me, and Jason’s dad picked out me for him. Crazy, but true!” After four years at college, Jaclynn moved to Ann Arbor for graduate school.
After graduating from college, Jaclynn and her husband Jason, both engineers, lived in Lower Michigan, about an eight-hour drive from the Kriegl home in Florence. They had three young daughters, Maddy, Mylee, and Mckynzee.
In 2010, when Jason was out of town on a trip, Jaclynn and her girls met up with Jack and Simone for a camping weekend. While visiting her family, Jaclynn’s brother Joe, also an engineer, transitioned to a teaching career at Kingsford High School. Enjoying being with her family, Jaclynn jokingly said to him, “When you put in your resignation at Oldenburg Group, let them know you have another engineer in the family.”
The more she thought about it, the more she realized it wasn’t a joke at all. It would be great to be back home, close to her family and support system. She wondered about leaving her position as a research associate at U of M. She asked Jason if he would ever consider a move, and after a short time, he sent in his resume.
At Christmas time, Jason received a call for an interview. Though it was a tumultuous time for their family with Jason’s father in hospice care, he agreed to the interview, and was immediately hired for as a mechanical engineer.
In January, Jason’s father passed away after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. The Kreiders decided to stay in Howell through the spring in order to spend time with Jason’s grieving mother, list their home with a realtor, and get organized for a move.
“Of course my parents were ready to help us relocate,” Jaclynn said. “They had a crew waiting for us on moving day. They’ve always said, ‘When it comes to our kids, we’ll do it – it doesn’t matter if we have to invest money or travel time or other resources. We’ll do it.’ So we moved in with them, and they told us we could stay as long as we needed to while we worked on our own living arrangements.
“I was so excited to envision that my mom and dad were going to be part of our everyday lives. It would be like the girls had two sets of parents. And, I just knew my dad would be able to teach my girls even better than I would. When Grandpa spoke, everyone listened because they knew it was the truth.”
Being back home was as wonderful as Jaclynn imagined it would be. She loved spending evenings with her parents, cooking meals for her dad, and watching the girls interact with Jack, Simone and their cousins and extended family.
In January of 2012, Jaclynn, pregnant with her fourth child, decided on a career change. She went back to school at Northern Michigan University to become a secondary integrated science teacher.
Becoming an educator was a natural choice for Jaclynn. Jack had enjoyed his education career as a teacher and administrator for over three decades. Simone was a retired first grade teacher, and Jaclynn’s brothers were secondary teachers as well. Jaclynn knew teaching would be a great career for a mom, and hoped it would provide an opportunity to impact lives in the same way her parents and siblings had.
Over the next few years, Jaclynn drove one-hundred miles to class several days a week, while her mom and dad helped care for the girls. “They were so wonderful,” she said. “My dad often gets all the credit, but my mom is his other half, and she gets all the non-glamorous, behind-the-scenes roles. She helped me get the girls ready for school every day and stay organized. She just takes care of everyone. She always has.”
Two years later, in March of 2014, Jaclynn was preparing for her Michigan Tests for Teacher Certification. Jaclynn would study on evenings and weekends, while the Kriegl family, always into athletics, would gather to watch college basketball tournament games. Jack, a long-time sports fanatic, loved this time of year. But this year, something wasn’t right with him. He was lethargic, and kept falling asleep during the games. The family worried it was heart trouble and asked him to go to the doctor, but he kept putting it off.
On Sunday, March 31st, after taking three naps in one afternoon, Jack finally agreed to go in for blood work on Monday morning. He was called back for further testing on Tuesday. His white blood cell count was up, and his platelets down. The family hoped it was just a viral infection. Jack saw a blood specialist on Wednesday, an oncologist who told him that he had leukemia cells in his blood.
“I was up at NMU for a class. I called my mom to ask how the tests went, and she told me the news. I drove home from Marquette just worried sick. Joe took him to his appointment in Green Bay on Thursday morning. He was admitted that day. They ran tests and started chemo right away after a bone biopsy.”
Though the news was a shock for the Kriegl family, Simone and the siblings sprang into action to take care of Jack and one another.
“Each of us siblings had a different interest in mind. Aundrea was worried about the grandchildren seeing Dad struggle through an illness. John’s biggest concern was making sure Dad would never be alone through any of it. Joe knew that Dad would go through anything if it meant he could have an eternity with his children. And I just didn’t want him to have to suffer.”
The extended family visited Jack, knowing that as he advanced further into treatment, visits would be limited in order to protect his fragile immune system.
The siblings made a schedule to make sure Jack was never alone during his treatment. They would take turns on a rotating basis, sitting with him in his Green Bay hospital room.
After the first week of chemo, on Jaclynn’s day with Jack, she spent the afternoon by his side, studying for her tests. Jack always loved science – he would wake up and quiz her on biology, then drift back into sleep.
It was incredibly painful for Jaclynn to see her dad sick and hurting. At one point, he was leaning over, crying in pain. She asked him what was wrong, and he said, “Nothing. I love you, Jaclynn.”
As she watched her dad struggle, Jaclynn was frustrated and confused about why a strong, compassionate and willing servant like Jack would have to face such a trial.
“Jaclynn,” he said, “it’s all worth it if I can point one person to Christ. God has given me this cross to bear for a reason.”
Jack was confident that his life, every life, had a purpose. And though his faith was big and powerful, his testimony was subtle and steady. A master of relationships, Jack shared the love of Jesus with kindness, attention, and service to others.
On April 12, with a week of chemo behind him, Jack’s condition was looking promising. Now, it was important for him to be infection-free for two weeks.
“We were crazy about protecting him,” Jaclynn said. “We wore masks when we visited, even though the nurses said it was overkill. We just wanted him to get well.”
On the morning of April 13th, Jaclynn was at home in Florence, and her brother, John, was at the hospital with Jack. She awoke to her friend, Alyssa, walking into her bedroom. When Aundrea couldn’t reach Jaclynn by telephone, she called Alyssa to drive to the to the Kriegl home and deliver the most tragic news Jaclynn had ever received.
That morning, when Jack’s nurse went into his hospital room to do routine vital checks, he was unresponsive. They initially hoped his blood sugar was just off, and took him for a CT scan.
John called his family right away. His brother Joe came from a nearby hospitality house with his daughter, Jordyn. Simone, Aundrea, and Jaclynn’s brother-in-law, John, set out for the hospital immediately.
By the time they arrived, Jack had already passed away from a brain aneurism.
Jaclynn was devastated. “I laid in my dad’s bed and cried, waiting for my family to return from Green Bay. Every time I think of that morning, it feels like a nightmare – like I’ll wake up and things will be different.
“I keep remembering the last time I left his room. I wanted to protect him from germs, so I tapped him on the knee and told him I loved him. Why did I not hug him? Now I have to live with that — that my goodbye to Dad was a tap on the knee.”
Jaclynn was one of many who hated to say goodbye to Jack Kriegl. Over 1,500 friends and family members came to the visitation and/or memorial at the Covenant Church to offer condolences and say goodbye to their beloved and irreplaceable companion.
“It’s been a year now, and I have to say I really don’t think it gets easier with time. You learn to live with a new normal. You try to make your kids’ lives as normal as possible. You learn to rely on people, and understand that they want to help you. With my strong personality, I wanted to say that I didn’t need any help, but I really did.
“In the past year, I can think of a handful of nights that I’ve sat down and made an actual good dinner for my family. Making dinner for the family without a place for my dad has been difficult. It’s the everyday details that I miss so much – just simple stuff…”
Since Jack’s death, Jaclynn and family have been told story after story by students who were impacted by Jack. Some would joke, “I spent a LOT of time with your dad in his office.” Then they’d go on to say how Jack never guilted or reprimanded them. There was always an underlying message that he truly cared about them, and together, they’d solve the problem or situation and make things right again.
Those stories fill Jaclynn with deep pride because of who her father was. “I think to myself, ‘He was that for you too? I was his child, but he reached out to many, many people outside of our family. He loved the people in his life. I mean, you hear a lot of people say, ‘I love you,’ but he really meant it. He had a passion for people and deeply invested himself in those he crossed paths with.”
“One thing I miss the most about my dad is that he had the right words, ALWAYS. How in the heck did he do that? If he didn’t have an answer right then, he never just said, ‘I don’t know.’ He made it his job to find out. He’d come back two hours later or the next day with an answer that would help you or give direction. Jason tells me I’m struggling so much because I’m learning to live without the person who could get me through anything.”
Although she is deeply grieving her father’s passing, Jaclynn seeks to find daily blessings along her path. She gives thanks for the thirty-five years she had with her father, and for the way she found her way back home to spend with him what would be the final years of his life.
“I never thought my career in biomedical engineering would allow me to be back in this area. But, I truly believe that God brought me back home to allow my family and me to spend that time with him. I mean, looking back, my youngest daughter Mataya would have had maybe ten visits with him if we lived away. Instead she had eighteen months of her life with him – every single day. Dad rocked her to sleep many nights. She may not remember it, which hurts, but I’ll have the stories to tell her.”
It’s no surprise that Jaclynn is seeking joy and hope even in the midst of trials, that she chooses gratitude even as she walks through this valley.
She learned it from her father.
Jack was a man of true goodness and integrity, a man who recognized and gave thanks for a life rich with the joy of relationships with others, and faith in God.
A few months ago, Jaclynn came across a small book that belonged to her father. When she opened it, she saw that it was a prayer journal. The first words of the book were, “Father, I hate to pray for any other requests because I am already so blessed…”
Jaclynn stopped reading. She put the book down. Though she knew her father’s private thoughts and heart’s desires could be revealed to her if she continued reading those pages, she wanted those words to be the ones she remembered.
I am already so blessed…
It is truly a phrase that encompasses her father’s life and legacy during his time on earth.
When you recognize your blessings and live a life of gratitude, your actions and example inevitably bless others.
When your cup is as full of love and joy as Jack Kriegl’s was, you can’t keep it from spilling over into the lives of family, friends, and all whom you encounter.
Since his death one year ago, Jack Kriegl’s absence has been felt profoundly by those who knew him. But in spite of that absence, a legacy of love and faith thrives within the family he created, the relationships in which he invested, the children and grandchildren who undoubtedly know that their lives matter–who live with the promise that they will one day be reunited with the number one fan of their lives.