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By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor
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.”
Simpkins said that while Mr. Waters wasn’t necessarily tech-savvy, he was willing to take part in the conversion from paper to computers in keeping the Rotary records while he served as treasurer.
The Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin, current pastor of First United Methodist Church, said Mr. Waters also never missed church if he was able to be present.
“He was very committed,” she said. It was really quite an effort to get in and down the hall with his walker.”
And when Mr. Waters’ health began to wane, he did not want to be in a wheelchair and was determined to continue to walk for as long as he could.
“I was amazed at how strong he’d kept and would come back after he’d been sick,” Lakota Eastin said.
Weaver said Mr. Waters was a quiet man who never sought the limelight but wasn’t afraid to get involved and help out.
In addition to Rotary, he was a member of the Rantoul Masons, the Odd Fellows (recognized as a 40-year member in 2008) and a former member of the Rantoul Moose. He also liked to camp, fish and target shoot.
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.”
Jones said Mr. Waters knew his stuff when it came to fighting fires.
“What I remember about that is he knew what was going on in a fire, and he knew what piece of equipment they would need. (Firefighters who would be in a house fighting a fire) would come out and look for (a piece of equipment) and he’d say, ‘Here’s what you need.’”
Ed Tepper, owner of Tepper Electric, Champaign, got to know Mr. Waters well.
He was “one of our oldest customers,” Tepper said. “He was the epitome of an honest, hard-working individual. Whenever Jack said something, you could put it down in stone.”
Tepper said even when the business was sold to his son Ken, Jack Waters remained somewhat active in the business.
“It was just one of our nice business relationships that transcend business.”
Mr. Waters also owned a trailer that he brought to various outdoor events in Rantoul and out of town, out of which he sold sno cones, cotton candy and popcorn. He later donated it to the Rantoul Township High School Booster Club, Ken Waters said.
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.