Life Remembered: Jack Waters 'a man of purpose and intensity'
RANTOUL — Jack Waters and Jack Jones had a lot in common.
They had the same first name, were in the same class in school, grew up a block apart, saw Europe together, spent long tenures serving on the Rantoul Fire Department, ran their own businesses and continued to call Rantoul their home all their lives.
Jones remained friends with him until Mr. Waters' death Dec. 6 at age 83.
"Jack and I toured Europe the summer we finished high school, with a Boy Scout troop," Jones said.
They saw Germany, France, Belgium and England.
"We were always good friends and were in business in Rantoul."
Mr. Waters followed his father into the hardware business and owned the Ben Franklin store at what is now Rantoul Plaza shopping center and later one in downtown Rantoul. In 1965, he moved from hardware to electrical contracting, opening Waters Electric, which he sold to his son Ken in 1993.
Jones was a carpenter and often saw Jack Waters on the job.
"He was very friendly," Jones said, "willing to help anyone out. I would say he was a model citizen. He was always ready to do things for the village."
Jones said he and Mr. Waters helped set up the Rantoul Chamber of Commerce style show each fall — Jones putting up a ramp and Mr. Waters doing the electrical work on it.
The Rev. Paul Simpkins, who served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Rantoul from 1983-91 and is now retired, said he knew Mr. Waters from attending the church with his family and from both being members of the Rantoul Rotary.
"He was very active and had perfect attendance," Simpkins said.
Fellow Rotarian Larry Weaver said Mr. Waters was the senior member of the club when he died, having joined in January 1957.
The two things about Rotary that Mr. Waters was most proud, Weaver said, was that he was a Paul Harris Fellow, which is awarded for contributions of $1,000 or more to the Rotary Foundation — the philanthropic arm of Rotary International — and he had more than 50 years of perfect attendance.
He served as treasurer and a member of the board of directors for the club for eight years from 1989-1997 and twice was named Fireman of the Year by the Rotary Club, in 1977 and 1985.
The club went to great lengths to ensure Mr. Waters maintained his perfect record, even after ill health required that he be confined to a nursing home. Rotarians would pick him up at the nursing home and bring him to the meetings.
"We had some meetings in his home and at (the nursing home) to keep the string going," Weaver said.
While Mr. Waters never missed a meeting, he didn't stick around long after they were finished, Simpkins said.
"He was a man of such purpose and intensity," Simpkins said. "As soon as Rotary was over ,he was gone out the door. He seemed like a man on a mission to get something done. It was time to go to work. I really admired that in him."
Mr. Waters was a longtime firefighter — a service that is a family affair. His father, Russell, was a firefighter, and his sons and grandson as well. His son Ken is Rantoul's fire chief.
"I think Jack was proud his sons followed him along in the fire department," Jones said. "Jack had been around the fire department long enough, and ... the last half of his tenure was spent as the equipment guy."
His son said Mr. Waters' five children learned hard work by working in the family store.
"I can remember in my earlier days, we would always have to unload the freight truck, which would be from a few pieces to a couple of hundred pieces of freight," Ken Waters said.
He said his father was a hard worker who was "willing to go the extra mile" and who loved firefighting.
"I grew up watching my dad be a firefighter," Ken Waters said. "He loved the camaraderie of the other firefighters and helping others in their time of need."
It became only natural that his children and grandchildren would also want to go into firefighting.