PORTAGE PARK — Friends, loved ones and neighbors have rallied around the family of a Far Northwest Side police officer who died unexpectedly last week.
John McKenna, 50, of Portage Park, died in his sleep Sept. 26, according to his wife, Rebecca McKenna. He was healthy but had heart issues compounded by the daily stresses of the job, Rebecca McKenna said.
John McKenna worked in the 11th Police District on the West Side for 19 years, his wife said. His friends and family said he was a loyal friend with a memorable sense of humor.
“He really embedded that spirit of someone caring,” Rebecca McKenna said. “Sometimes, it was much to my chagrin because he was always on the phone calling people, but I understood.”
Friend Abraham Lara started a fundraiser to help with funeral expenses and to support McKenna’s family. It’s raised over $52,000 in a week.
Lara called John McKenna “one of the best persons I’ve met in my life” who is gone too soon.
“He has a lot of people that love him, his wife, his parents, kids and friends,” Lara wrote on the fundraiser page. “There’s a lot of us that are going to miss his jokes and his sense of humor. Johnny was never without a one-liner.”
McKenna followed in his father’s footsteps to become a cop. His father was a homicide detective, his family said.
A McKinley Park native, he wanted to serve the South Side and combat high crime in the Homan Square and Garfield Park areas, his wife said.
“He always said the people who live in 11th deserve to have protection against crime just as everyone else,” Rebecca McKenna said.
Nicknamed “Johnny Mac,” McKenna was a founding board member of The Brotherhood for the Fallen, his wife said. The national nonprofit works to honor fallen officers killed by an offender in the line of duty and to support their families. He was working on starting a Chicago chapter.
Through this work, he cultivated a wide network of folks who lost people on the force while on the job and joined others in offering support. He always remembered the anniversaries and was active in donating to charities, fundraisers and presenting money to the families who needed help, Rebecca McKenna said.
“Anybody, whether part of a blue family or not, he was always the first” to lend a hand, she said. “He was a loyal person.”
Jesse Barrera, owner of Jesse’s Barbershop at 4851 W. Irving Park Road in Portage Park, cut John McKenna’s hair for nearly 10 years. He started out as a customer but quickly became a friend, Barrera said.
“This guy used to walk into the shop and light up the place,” Barrera said. “Talk about having jokes — this guy had a joke for everything. All that aside, he had a heart and he cared about people.”
The two friends were planning an outing at the shooting range in the next few weeks. Barrera was going to call him soon to finalize a date.
“I was supposed to give him a final ‘yes’ but instead, I got a call” about his death, he said. “He is not just a loss to the department, but to the city as a whole. He was one of the good guys.”
Sheri Wise, a friend of 25 years, said he gave all of his friends nicknames — hers was Tuts — and would call on their birthdays and on holidays.
She and her family would host 4th of July and Cubs games in the summers. McKenna was a Sox fan but he would come and celebrate anyway, she said.
“I want to remember him for being kind, generous, funny and not taking life for granted,” Wise said.
The Brotherhood of the Fallen will host a charity golf outing Oct. 13 in Winfield, Illinois, which includes an open bar, dinner and golf. All of the proceeds will go toward a scholarship for Brother Rice High School in Mount Greenwood, his alma mater, his wife said.
Rebecca McKenna said she is grateful for the outpouring of support she’s received within the last week. The money from the fundraiser will help her pay bills and help take care of her nephew, who has special needs. John McKenna helped care for him and her children from a previous marriage, she said.
“Everybody knew him and loved him,” she said. “I never realized how many people he had touched. It’s nice to know it wasn’t just me who knew how wonderful he was … he was a stellar human being.”
Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Tuesday at Malec & Sons Funeral Home, 6000 N. Milwaukee Ave. His funeral 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Aloysius Catholic Church, 2300 W. Le Moyne St., the family said.
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