WINNIPEG — Len Kropioski, was a Winnipeg Jets super fan and fixture on the scoreboard at the MTS Centre. At every home game he proudly saluted and belted out the national anthem.
But now there will an empty seat and a void at the games.
Kropioski, also affectionately known at Kroppy, passed away in Kenora, Ont., Tuesday at the age of 98.
He was a season ticket holder since the Jets returned to Winnipeg in 2011. The Second World War veteran would drive two-and-a-half hours from Kenora to Winnipeg to watch every home game.
WATCH: Global’s Talia Ricci explores the impact Kroppy had on the Winnipeg community
Kropioski was not only a veteran, he was also a proud Canadian.
“My dad was in the military in Poland. So I had a lot of military training,” Kropioski said during an interview with Global News in 2013.
Born in Winnipeg, he and was the son of Polish immigrants. One of Kropioski’s closest childhood friends was Andrew Mynarski. The two went to school together and shared a love of airplanes, which drove them to enlist in the military.
In their 20s they went to enlist in the air force, but Kropioski didn’t get in and Mynarski did. Instead, Kropioski was sent to Alaska to to be part of the unit that filled supply orders during the Second World War. His friend flew half-way across the world to fight in the war.
Kropioski came home, but Mynarski died June 13, 1944 trying to rescue a trapped crew member after their plane was hit flying over France. For that, Kropioski’s friend was awarded Canada’s highest honour, The Victoria Cross.
“I am very proud that someone I knew won the Victoria Cross,” Kropioski said. “He was a great friend of mine.”
Kropioski told Global News he was in Alaska when he heard the news about his friend.
“I can’t forget it. I just walked away and I cried,” he said.
People often thanked Kropioski at Jets games for his service in the war, but he always told them to thank those who didn’t come home.
Like his commitment to his country, Kropioski also had a love for hockey. He was 14 when he was first asked to play hockey but his parents didn’t have the money to buy skates. However, there was a shoemaker in town who repaired skates and gave pairs to those who couldn’t afford them, including Kropioski.
He said the kindness stuck with him. When he retired from his work as a linesman in Kenora, Kropioski started sponsoring local teams. One year he helped as many as six teamsm, supplying uniforms and equipment.
“I know it costs a lot of money, but I enjoy it,” he said.
Kropioski caught the hearts of Winnipeggers during the Jets first home game in 2011. During the Canadian national anthem, a keen eyed camera operator noticed a man in a military uniform in the front row along the glass, saluting the flag and singing his heart out.
When Kropioski was shown on the scoreboard, the crowd erupted.
He made the round-trip from Kenora to Winnipeg to watch every Jets game, even the late ones, meaning he would sometimes get home at 3 a.m.
“It’s not tough. I’m used to it I’ve never missed a game,” he said.
Earlier this year, Kropioski was hospitalized for about a month due to health concerns but made a return to the team’s home games. Upon his return, the Jets honoured him with a standing ovation. The standing ovation brought him to tears, as he blew kisses towards the thousands in attendance.
“I just love this country, that’s all,” he said.
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