Superfan deserves permanent salute
Statue at MTS Centre would be fitting honour
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/09/2016 (2268 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There is at least one thing you may not know about Leonard (Kroppy) Kropioski , the iconic Jets superfan who died this week at age 98.
He loved planes.
No, not just the Jets.
He loved planes before there were jets, in the 1920s, as a boy growing in the North End.
That was long before the return of the Winnipeg Jets, of course, when Kroppy — the pumped-up and proud Second World War veteran in the ball cap and blazer — became famous as the fan who stood out by simply standing up at home games and saluting as he sang O Canada.
This while the rest of the country watched him on Hockey Night in Canada and the crowd inside the MTS Centre cheered the closeups of Kroppy on the screen above centre ice.
They cheered because he was the Jets superfan whose old-fashion pride in Canada matched our new-found pride in Winnipeg.
As I was suggesting, though, there was more to Kroppy than being the embodiment of the best of us.
Back in Kenora, Ont., he was known for supporting hockey and baseball and his giving, outgoing nature.
And, of course, he always loved planes.
I only know that because in early June 2009, two years before the Jets landed here again and before he became famous as a fan, Kroppy took me on a tour of his old neighbourhood. He had driven in from his home in Kenora, the way he later would for Jets home games, but I don’t recall how we connected. Probably because a local group, led by local aviation historian Bill Zuk, was just starting a fundraising campaign to erect a statute of war hero Andrew (Andy) Mynarski.
He had been Kroppy’s best friend growing up.
On the day we visited the old ’hood, Kroppy was nearly 91, but he was remembering the place and time as if he were nine again. Kroppy and his best buddy hung out from Grade 5 through Grade 10. Their closeness came naturally because both were sons of Polish immigrants and they only lived a couple of blocks apart.
“We were great friends,” Kroppy told me on the tour. “I lived on Burrows, and he lived on Manitoba.”
Kroppy remembered Andy being a quiet kid. And that he was intrigued by planes. Every Victoria Day, the two of them would walk all the way from the North End to Stevenson Field — near where James A. Richardson International Airport is today — to watch the annual air shows.
Later, they would create their own air force.
“We made out our own planes right in front of his house,” Kroppy said. “That was the one love he had. He loved planes.”
Mynarski joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 and ended up in England. Kroppy ended up in the army and was posted to the Aleutian Islands.
On June 12, 1944, while on his 13th bombing mission, the Lancaster bomber Mynarski was flying in was hit by cannon fire from an enemy plane. The pilot of the Lancaster ordered everyone to bail out, but just as Mynarski was about to jump, he noticed Pat Brophy. His best friend in the crew was trapped in the rear gun turret. Mynarski crawled through fire on the floor and tried to use an axe to free him.
Miraculously, Brophy would survive a crash landing to tell the story of how, after pleading with him to leave, Mynarski was on fire as he stood at the open door and saluted. And jumped.
Mynarski would die of his burns and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the army’s highest honour.
Last year, 71 years to the day of Mynarski’s last mission, the ailing Leonard Kropioski drove in from Kenora once again. This time he was headed to Vimy Ridge Park for the unveiling of the long-awaited statue of Mynarski. And to stand at attention and salute the memory of the other kid who loved planes.
It had taken all of those six years for Zuk and the others to raise the $93,000 they needed to have local artist Charlie Johnston create the bronze statue that celebrates Mynarski’s heroism and memory. Finding the funds was a struggle. And, in a way, it only happened because of Kroppy. Much of the money, the donation that made the biggest difference, came from Brian Klaponski, Kroppy’s nephew.
I don’t know what the Winnipeg Jets have in mind to celebrate Kroppy’s life and contribution to the team.
Regularly bring him back in a video during the playing of O Canada maybe, the way the Philadelphia Flyers show video of Kate Smith’s singing God Bless America. But wouldn’t it be fitting if both the Jets, and we, the fans, contributed jointly to erecting a statue of Kroppy at the MTS Centre?
It would be an ongoing salute to Leonard (Kroppy) Kropioski. The fan who represented the best in being a fan.