Man killed in crash remembered as devoted to family

Justin Kleczka leaves behind wife, 5 children

Evan J. Pretzer

Leader Photo by Greg Mellis Following Thursday’s funeral, April Kleczka reflects on the loss of her husband, Justin Kleczka, as she sits in their Shawano home. Photos and memories of their five children hang on the living room wall. Despite the sudden and tragic loss, April wants the community to know and remember the loving and generous husband and father.

For Justin Kleczka’s widow April, it’s how he lived, and not how he left this world, that matters.

Together with Justin since the pair met in their late teens while working together at the local Hardee’s, what started out as a romance where she was unsure of his interest blossomed into a family with three sons, two daughters, multiple dogs and a home filled with fond memories and personal struggles.

“When I met him, I really wanted to hang out and he kept going home,” April Kleczka said. “I thought he wasn’t into me because he was going home so early after work. So, one day I called Hardee’s and asked him if he wanted to watch movies and he never left my life.

At the time, April did not have her late husband’s phone number. After their first date, he stuck around and intended to be with her far into the future, even helping April with mental issues during their time together.

“I was his first everything, we’d made plans for the future of our lives and that’s why this is so hard, he even helped me fight depression,” April said. “I never wanted to be on any medications and he helped me battle through things.”

Last Sunday, 31-year-old Justin died while attempting to pass a truck on South Airport Drive. Police determined the lifelong Shawano native struck the rear of the vehicle with his motorcycle and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

In a home with walls filled with photos of the pair’s children, April discussed various aspects of her life with him. Through their 12 years of time together, she says there wasn’t a moment he would decline to help with anything she or their children needed.

In one instance mentioned by the stay-at-home mom during her eulogy at his funeral Thursday, Justin carried around his two daughters in his arms for six hours during a recent visit to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

At first, the pair struggled financially to afford visits like this, but over time, Justin worked hard and moved up to a better income for the family, getting hired at the Georgia-Pacific manufacturing corporation in Green Bay after working for Wisconsin Film & Bag Inc. in Shawano for a number of years.

According to April, she and Justin went the extra mile to make sure he landed a job with the company.

“I took him to get his interview suit,” she said in the eulogy. “We picked out khakis, a white shirt with a blue blazer and a red tie … he ended up getting the job. Like always, he had his paycheck go right into our account to pay bills and never asked for a dime.”

April said the support from friends of Justin and family has been tremendous.

Although calls to Wisconsin Film & Bag and Swedberg Funeral Home in Shawano could not confirm information before press time about how the public reacted to Justin’s death, he was liked by those he worked at Georgia-Pacific with as much as he was loved by his family. According to Mike Kawleski, a public relations official at the company, Justin’s line was shut down so those he worked with could attend his funeral, something not commonly done at a paper mill.

“The women who hired him for his jobs came to the funeral,” April said. “With the help and support of a lot of people who really love us, my kids are keeping their minds busy. My cousin, Levi Lyons, is doing a phenomeonal job, he’s helping with finances and working on trying to figure out what is best for the longevity of our family.”

Now, nearly a week into being without her husband, April questions how she’ll handle life without Justin and, though she says it is silly, the mother of five smiles as she recalls how the pair finished sentences, had a hundred-day long messaging streak on mobile messaging app Snapchat and had plans to live out in the country together.

For April, the road ahead is challenging, but knowing her husband wouldn’t want her to feel bad helps make the days pass.

“He would want me to stay and be here for the kids,” April said. “He wouldn’t want me to be sad and feel burdened. One of the last cards he sent me was about learning strengths and handling fears you didn’t know existed and that’s how I am feeling about right now.”