BUCKTOWN — Neighbors say 98-year-old Joseph "Joe" Ferrans enjoyed going to church and tending to a backyard garden during the half-century that the retired bricklayer lived on the quiet Bucktown street he called home.
"He was a friendly and jovial guy and so considerate and generous," said Glynis Gibson, Ferrans' neighbor.
Another neighbor, Leah Moskoff, said Ferrans was always working in his yard.
"He was swinging a hammer until the end," Moskoff said.
Ferrans died on March 8 — three weeks after he was found unconscious on a sidewalk near his home, just west of Dickens Avenue and Charleston Street.
"Once he was found outside, he did not go back home again. He was not ever able to say what happened or what he was doing outside that morning," Gibson said.
Ferrans was born in Chicago in 1918 and at the age of eight, moved to Poland where he went to school and served in the Polish army, returning to Chicago in 1949, according to his daughter Elizabeth Ward.
Ferrans moved to Bucktown in 1965 and lived in the same house for 52 years.
"He would do all the repair work on his home, even into his 90s. He was quite the handy man and told me that at one time or another he worked on many of the houses on the street," Gibson said.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) grew up in Bucktown and knew Ferrans through St. Hedwig Catholic Church, 2226 North Hoyne Ave.
"He was very helpful around St. Hedwig for many years even before I was alderman," Waguespack said, describing Ferrans as "a very nice and considerate gentleman."
Rich Martin, business manager at St. Hedwig, said that Ferrans was a lector who frequently read at the Sunday morning mass in Polish.
"He was always willing to help out. We are losing our seniors rapidly. We lost three in the last two weeks," Martin said.
Gibson said she and her husband moved across the street from Ferrans in 1998, one year after Ferrans' wife Joan died.
"I had seen him outside on occasion with his dog. It was clear he lived alone and was elderly. One summer day, I saw him talking outside to another neighbor and I just decided to go over and introduce myself. I told Joe that I run my business from my home so I am there most of the time, so if you ever need anything please feel free to come over and knock on my door," Gibson said.
Ferrans gradually started to come to Gibson's home, bringing tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans from his backyard garden.
"His cucumbers were to die for," Gibson said.
"One day when he brought vegetables over, he said, 'Do you know why I bring you vegetables?' He said I bring you vegetables because that day, you came over and introduced yourself and said if I ever needed anything to reach out to you, that's why I bring you vegetables," Gibson said.
Gibson said she drove Ferrans to the bank a few times and helped him install a copier and printer machine, while her husband and other neighbors would shovel snow from Ferrans' porch steps and sidewalk when it snowed.
"One summer, he noticed our grass was overgrown and he came over and mowed it for us," Gibson said.
Last May, Gibson said a neighbor snapped a candid photo of Ferrans walking across the street to bring Gibson flowers, which he'd buy during grocery trips with his daughter. A neighbor photographed Ferrans delivering flowers to Glynis Gibson in May 2016. [Provided]
Gibson described Ferrans as "a perfect gentleman" who would open doors for her and help her with her coat.
"A couple years ago he had the biggest tomato I'd ever seen in his garden. He said that one is yours, that one has your name on it. He brought it to me and it was a little green but he didn't want anyone to pick it or the squirrels to get to it," Gibson said.
Gibson said the tomato weighed almost a pound.
When Ferrans was alive, he had a routine.
"Every morning, he would open the shades and then at night he would close the shades. He liked to read at the front window. I'm still keeping an eye on him from across the street. I miss seeing him Sunday mornings as he's going to church, getting his mail or doing repair work. I miss seeing the blinds go up and down and knowing that he is there and he is okay," Gibson said.