FOUNTAIN: Wherever he went, he made a friend

SHARE FOUNTAIN: Wherever he went, he made a friend

James Klaisner

He was a sugar-free cinnamon dolce latte, five shots — two on top, one in the middle, two on bottom —2 percent milk, no whip, no stir, heated to 173 degrees.

Precise. The full embodiment of the cup called life. Sweet with some kick. Easy like Sunday morning.

That was Jim. That’s what the guys at the morning coffee roundtable and I affectionately called him.

And that was his drink-a nearly $9 concoction that was Jim’s cup of morning sunshine. Jim’s drink. Call it the James Klaisner.

That’s his government name. Most of the guys in our morning crew — a mixture of young’uns, old heads and retirees — wouldn’t know “James Klaisner.” But they knew Jim.

Everybody knew Jim — the tall, bespectacled older gentleman with white hair who climbed out of his silver Cadillac DeVille with a friendly, “Good morning.”

We came to know Jim’s penchant for telling stories in between puffing on a Kool menthol cigarette, laughing heartily or smiling wryly, his eyes beaming like a mischievous kid. We had even come to accept Jim’s embellishment of some stories, like the sage in Thanksgiving dinner dressing that tantalizes the nostrils and stirs the stomach juices.

No one could tell a grander tale.

“Sometimes I think he kind of added a little material,” Jim’s wife, Jan Klaisner, told me this week, laughing. “He always made it a little better, a little more interesting.”

Yep, Jim liked a good story. He had plenty of good material: From his days in the U.S. Army and his time in the 174th Assault Helicopter Company, and his years in Vietnam (1969-71). To his world travels, his life’s journey as a man, as a father, as a husband for 45 years.

To his love of bowling, and of cars — about which he could rattle off with precision the details of engine sizes, models, handling, top speed…

An auto aficionado, he never missed a Chicago Auto Show, his daughter and only child Jessica Zairis, 37, told me this week, sitting on the café veranda, where her father often sipped and savored conversations with men who became friends over cups of coffee consumed upon the winds of time and seasons.

But seasons fade, like the glint of the teal ’94 Cadillac Eldorado that Jim was nearly finished restoring and hoped soon to take for a ride. And the best-laid plans, life and time have taught me, are often preempted by life and time.

Born Jan. 3, 1941, our friend Jim, of Frankfort, Illinois, died of cancer on Monday, Sept. 11. He was 76, a retired steelworker.

But most evident at the south suburban church where his services were held Thursday, crystal clear from the dozens of photographs on two poster boards near where his body rested in a silver casket, was that here was a man who lived, loved and who was loved.

“He was always there for me,” his wife said.

Snapshots of their life together share their story: a photo of the young couple cutting their wedding cake more than four decades ago; a handsome portrait with their little girl in pigtails. Memories of not how he died but the way he lived.

“Wherever he went, he made a friend,” son-in-law Neko L. Zairis told me. “He was that guy.”

Indeed he was.

In addition to his wife, daughter and son-in-law, he is survived by two granddaughters, Leah and Lexi; and one grandson, Leo.

“The way that he did it was, ‘I’m living my life ’til the very last day,’ ” Jessica said of her dad. “And he lived it strong, like the man he was.”

Just like his coffee drink: “The James Klaisner.”


Send letters to

The Latest
With more natural land in a heavily populated area than anywhere else in North America, the preserves are almost like having a national park right here at home.
Donald Patrick, 47, faces felony counts of burglary and aggravated assault of a peace officer, Chicago police announced Tuesday.
Seiya Suzuki returned from paternity leave and Willson Contreras was activated from the injured list.
The Sept. 13 shooting that left Axel Robledo wounded was called an apparent “random act of violence” by Chicago police.
The outgoing and avuncular Lynch was first drawn to Chicago in 1967 when he visited the city from his home in Wisconsin to see the Picasso sculpture.