A private prayer service has been scheduled in memory of Joseph Kromelis, affectionately known to Chicagoans as the “Walking Man,” who died in mid-December from burns he suffered when he was set on fire in May while he was asleep on Lower Wabash Avenue.
The prayer service for the family will be held Jan. 23, said Mark Schmeltzer, director of communications at Mercy Home. The service will be closed to the public.
The white-haired, mustachioed Kromelis was known in Chicago for walking around downtown earning his nickname, “Walking Man.”
After he died last month, the Rev. Scott Donahue, president and CEO of Mercy Home, worked with the Sullivan Funeral Home in Hinsdale, as well as anonymous donors, to provide Kromelis with “a dignified burial,” according to Schmeltzer.
“Like so many Chicagoans, I had seen Mr. Kromelis walking throughout the city over the years, and I was moved by the story of his life, his assaults and his recent passing,” Donahue said. “I felt called to do something — to help out in any way I could out of compassion and really in following the Gospel instruction to serve others in need.”
Kromelis was cremated and his ashes will be interned in a donated niche at St. Boniface Cemetery, Schmeltzer said. Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago also contributed to making the arrangements possible, he said.
[ Chicago’s ‘Walking Man’ dies at 75 from complications of injuries caused by May gasoline attack ]
According to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, Kromelis died on Dec. 11, 2022, at the age of 75, from complications of thermal injuries. The office, which classified his death as a homicide, said Kromelis had been hospitalized since his attack in May.
Kromelis, recognized by his long, wavy white hair, mustache and signature coat, was sleeping under blankets on the 400 block of North Lower Wabash Avenue when police said 27-year-old Joseph Guardia doused Kromelis in gasoline and set him on fire. Severe burns sustained from the attack covered more than half of his body.
The attack was the second that the “Walking Man” had suffered in six years. In 2016, Kromelis was beaten by an individual carrying a baseball bat. The attack left him hospitalized for several weeks.
Kromelis was a familiar presence downtown as he wandered the streets, sometimes selling jewelry but he rarely asked for money, food or assistance, the obituary said, as he “walked and walked” with a neatly folded handkerchief in the breast pocket of his blazer, which opened to his trademark V-neck T-shirts.
Well dressed and confident, his distinctive appearance made him instantly recognizable and a local icon, according to his obituary. He wore his thick, wavy hair long and sported a broad mustache, all of it graying in recent years, lending an air of worldliness and sophistication, the obituary said.
“And above all, he walked … and walked, and walked. Among the crowds. Down the Magnificent Mile. Across Chicago River bridges. Through the L-shadowed streets of the Loop,” the obit said.
Kromelis was born Jan. 13, 1947, in Germany to Jonas and Gertrude Kromelis, according to the obituary.
In 2016, Kromelis’ sister-in-law, Linda Kromelis, told the Tribune that after his parents moved to Michigan in the 1960s, he stayed behind in Chicago, resisting the family’s entreaties to move, even after he lost his apartment.
Kromelis is survived by a host of great-nieces and great-nephews, his obituary said.
Kromelis’ attacker, Guardia, is being held without bond in Cook County Jail, according to court records. He is due back in court for a hearing Jan. 19.