His family describes him as a walking encyclopedia, but Woodstock’s John Kunzie prefers to call himself a “protagonist.”
Kunzie, 82, was honored last month by the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts for serving 25 years as a trustee of the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District. But his involvement in the community dates back to 1976, when Kunzie and his wife, Judie, moved to Woodstock with their blended family.
Kunzie, who was widowed at the time, met his future wife in October 1971.
“We met on a blind date, and he’s legally blind, so I always have fun with that story,” Judie Kunzie said.
From 1962 to 1970, Kunzie worked in Chicago at R. R. Donnelly as a foreman, in what he described to be his dream job. In 1965, he began noticing issues with his vision. A doctor visit revealed a fungal infection, more commonly seen in the lungs, was affecting his eyes.
“I was losing my central vision. I was 35,” he said.
Both were single parents — Judie, recently divorced, had three children and John had two. The two quickly became friends and spent hours on the phone each night after they had put their kids to bed.
“What it was is that he was such a good friend. All of a sudden I found myself falling in love with my friend,” Judie Kunzie said.
The pair talked about anything and everything, and before long they were engaged. To the delight of their children, who were big supporters of their love, the Kunzies were married in June 1972. Kunzie often jokes that he was tempted by the thought of marrying into the four-slice toaster Judie owned.
The family cross-adopted. John and Judie had two more children, bringing the total to seven.
“I would say one of my greatest accomplishments, bar none, was convincing this lady to marry me,” Kunzie said of his wife.
After a long search for the ideal community for raising children, the family started to look for a home in Woodstock. After over a year of searching for a place to accommodate their children and Kunzie’s home-based business, they fell in love with a house on Dean Street near Route 176.
“I wanted to come to a place where (my kids) could get to know everybody from the mayor to the bank president to the town drunk and be able to talk to each of them,” Kunzie said of the family’s decision to move to Woodstock from Arlington Heights.
In 1992, a position was open for trustee with the Woodstock Rural Fire Protection District. Sons Steve and Scott, then firefighters, encouraged their father to go after the position, which in those days was an appointed position, Kunzie said.
“I went to interview with them. We went through the routine of questioning, and finally one of them said, ‘John, if you get appointed to this job, what do you consider to be the most important part of being a trustee?’ I thought, oh boy. I could give a long answer which I can do or I can be short and sweet. I looked at them and said, ‘Put the fire out.’ And I got the job,” Kunzie said.
Kunzie was part of the merging of the rural, city and rescue squad which formed into what is still known as the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District. He has served on the board until this spring, when he lost his bid for re-election. It was the second time he was defeated at the polls — Kunzie’s shot at a school board seat years ago also failed, although he joked it wasn’t really a loss: “I ran for school board. I won, and the other ones were elected.”
His family has continued to grow, as the Kunzies described it as “grandchildren falling like rain,” to a total of 10. The last of their seven Woodstock grandchildren graduated in May from Woodstock High School. This year will be the first in decades the family has had no children or grandchildren at WHS, but John and Judie Kunzie said they can never give up the choral concerts they’ve grown to love over the last 41 years.
“If you hear of any kids who are in choir or theater and would like a proxy grandparent, let us know,” Judie Kunzie said.