Illinois man who delivered tens of thousands of crosses to victims of tragedy dies after cancer battle

Greg Zanis

Greg Zanis

AURORA, Ill. — An Illinois man who became a fixture in the aftermath of numerous tragedies when he began crisscrossing the country and making wooden crosses more than two decades ago to honor those who were killed has died, his daughter said.

“R.I.P. Dad,” Susie Zanis wrote on Facebook. “I know you were ready to go but we weren’t ready to lose you.”

Greg Zanis’ death was expected after a recent announcement that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and just last week, he greeted well-wishers from his porch as they drove by as part of a drive-by procession and living visitation organized by his daughter.

His passing early Monday, May 4 was also confirmed by close friend and community activist Dawn Valenti.

“It is with great sadness that I announce Greg Zanis my friend and a friend to many has made his transition early this morning,” Valeni wrote in a statement.

Zanis, 69, started making the crosses after his father-in-law was murdered in 1996. He placed more than 27,000 memorials for others who have been killed. He also honored victims of Chicago gun violence, mass shootings, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.

Zanis retired from making the crosses late last year, due to the financial and emotional toll it had taken on the family, according to Susie Zanis.

“My dad Greg Zanis will no longer be doing his ministry Crosses For Losses. He will be retiring,” she wrote. “He asked me to thank everyone for their support.”

Zanis most recently traveled to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the summer to honor those killed in separate mass shootings that occurred hours apart in August.

“I just feel it’s so important to be here for the families,” Greg Zanis told Fox News from El Paso, days after a gunman killed 22 people inside a Walmart. “We’re talking about the gunman, but today, it’s going to change — we’re going to start talking about the families and the victims.”

Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin released a statement on Monday where he remembered Zanis as “a giant among men.”

“Mr. Greg Zanis was a giant among men. He was a man of action who simply wanted to honor the lives of others,” Irvin said in the statement. “In return, his life was one of honor and one that was celebrated throughout our nation and world. Heeding to the scripture ‘pick up your cross and follow me,’ Mr. Greg Zanis did just that. He picked up the crosses he made and followed his mission in the noblest of ways. His legacy shall forever be remembered in his hometown of Aurora and around the globe.”

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