For 48 years, John Sing was devoted to public safety in eastern Nebraska, not just through his work in the fire department at Boys Town, but also through his professional efforts to support other first responders.
On Monday, the Boys Town fire chief and safety director went out on what would be his final call, collapsing upon his return to the station. He was 66. The cause of death has not been determined.
For years Sing served as an officer with the Tri-Mutual Aid Fire Fighters Association, where he worked closely with nearly 30 fire and rescue departments in Nebraska and Iowa that comprised about 1,600 firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians. He also was a deputy state fire marshal.
“John was what I would consider the hub of activity with fire services and mutual aid,” said Ken Ward, assistant fire chief at Ponca Hills Volunteer Fire Department. “He was a tireless and dedicated individual. There wasn’t anybody who didn’t know John.”
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
The Rev. Steven Boes, executive director of Boys Town, said there’s been “tremendous grief” following Sing’s death.
“His dedication of 48 years to our kids, employees and the Village of Boys Town will honor his memory for years to come,” Boes said. “Chief Sing will be missed by all, especially the many kids whose lives have been positively influenced by his service. Please keep his family and fellow first responders in your prayers during this difficult time.”
Sing was in his late teens in 1971 when he started working in civil defense and firefighting at Boys Town. It was a natural fit for him, given his father’s many years doing diverse work at Boys Town. Paul Sing served as civil defense director and sheriff’s captain at Boys Town and helped as an attorney and a music director there.
“(John) had the opportunity to shadow to his dad, and along the way he learned and was inspired,” his wife said.
Her husband loved his work, she said, and was focused broadly on public safety, including training and interagency cooperation.
“He would put down anything, stop what he was doing to respond to any need,” she said.
Among the improvements Sing launched at Boys Town was a safety program based on new federal workplace regulations and a fire cadet program that provided skills training and career opportunities for youths at Boys Town and elsewhere. Under Sing’s leadership, Boys Town hosted cadet competitions that drew teams of teenagers from around the country, Ward said.
“It was a good teaching tool,” Ward said. “The Boys Town team was always the team to beat because John had them well-trained.”
Sing also oversaw the Boys Town Fire Brigade’s transition to a municipal fire department.
Sing is survived by his wife of 48 years, Sharon Marie (Lee), daughter Jamie McCarty, son Jason and seven grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, 13943 Dowd Drive, at Boys Town. It will be followed by a vigil service at 7 p.m. A Mass of Christian burial will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, also at Dowd Chapel.
World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole contributed to this report.
1 of 34
Claire Wickenhauser was well-known for her festive cake decorations at Emminger's Bakery, which she owned with her husband Ted. She died Dec. 30, 2018, at age 94. Read more
"Mean" Gene Okerlund, a gentlemanly wrestling announcer who specialized in interviewing the biggest, loudest and most obnoxious professional grapplers in the business, died Jan. 2 at age 76. Read more
Dr. Michael Patrick Metz was a noted pathologist and specialist who was a native of Omaha but spent most of his career in Australia. He died in Adelaide on Oct. 2 at age 63. Read more
For 25 years, Tom Marfisi provided trust and credibility as the City of Omaha’s labor relations director, say those who worked with him and negotiated against him. He died Dec. 31, 2018, at age 71. Read more
Retired Lt. Gen. Leo Dulacki, an Omaha native, served in the Marine Corps from 1941 to 1974, including a combat tour during the Korean war and two more during the Vietnam War. He died Jan. 4 at age 100. Read more
Robert Gregg Hoig, who survived a critical illness at 2 that cost him a kidney but then lived an active life of swimming, skiing and tennis, died Jan. 7 at age 86. Read more
Helen "Hani" Kenefick, wife of former Union Pacific president John Kenefick, died Jan. 7 at age 93. A longtime supporter of Sacred Heart School in Omaha, she also served on the boards of St. Joseph's Hospital, the College of St. Mary and volunteered at the Joslyn Museum. Read more
Maj. Gen. Edward Binder fought in World War II and led the Nebraska Guard from 1977 to 1983. He died Jan. 7 at age 95. Read more
Del Weber served as UNO's chancellor from 1977 to 1997, a period of maturation and growth for the campus. He died Jan. 11 at age 86. Read more
Anne Boyle served nearly 20 years on the Nebraska Public Service Commission, and an entire lifetime trying to serve the public, especially those marginalized by society. Boyle, the former state chair of the Democratic Party, died Feb. 2 at her home in Omaha. She was 76. Read more
Harry A. Koch Jr. was known in business circles for leading the insurance brokerage his father founded in 1916 for more than 40 years; He expanded and modernized it before selling it to another local family-owned company in 2004. Koch died Feb. 24 at age 89 due to complications from a fall in November.
Dennis “Whitey” Mixan, 62, of Bellevue was a “terrible” high school wrestler but ended up the father of four state champions. And while Mixan loved to play guitar, other amateur guitarists sometimes outperformed him for a spot in Friday night jam sessions. But he kept playing and even built his own guitars, said his son Mike Mixan of Omaha. Whitey Mixan died March 26. Read more
Businessman and philanthropist Lee Sapp, who co-founded the Sapp Bros. travel center chain with his three brothers, died March 30. He was 90. Sapp and his brothers Bill, Ray and Dean started the Sapp Bros. chain with a gas station on a plot of land at Interstate 80 and Nebraska Highway 50 in 1971. Read more
An ability to stay cool under pressure served Eugene “Gene” Beran, 88, well during his 27 years as a World-Herald editor. Beran, who came to the World-Herald in 1966 and retired in 1993, was the regional editor overseeing coverage of the Nebraska Legislature and state government. He died March 31. Read more
William “Bill” Sapp of Ashland, Nebraska, was the last surviving brother of the four co-founders of Sapp Bros. Inc., a national chain of travel centers and more. Sapp, 86, died April 4, less than a week after his brother Lee’s death on March 30. Read more
Cherrie Anderson was a pioneer who brought aerobic dancing to Omaha in the 1970s. Her dance studio, the Cherrie Anderson School of Music and Dance, has taught generations of children. Anderson died on April 5. Services were held April 10. Read more
As a boy in California, Yoshio Manuel Matsunami gave up more than three years of freedom to pay for the sins of his father’s native country, Japan. Matsunami graduated from high school in 1945 at the Topaz War Relocation Center in central Utah, an internment camp built in 1942 to house people of Japanese descent. He later moved to Omaha, owned jewelry shops in the area for 30 years, and raised a family of six children. He died April 6, of kidney failure, at age 91. Read more
Frank Matthews, a former president of the Omaha Bar Association, enjoyed a distinguished law career of 40 years. He and the former Helen Spencer, his wife of 67 years, also raised eight children in the Dundee neighborhood. Matthews, 97, died April 12. Read more
Most people knew David Deao as the owner of The Winery, a great little spot for buying wine and grabbing a made-from-scratch lunch. But Deao, 64, was also known for his enthusiasm for life and for his companionship, love and devotion. He died April 13. Read more
William “Bill” G. Campbell IV, who co-founded in Omaha the firm that’s now known nationally as Kutak Rock, died April 13. He was 84. The longtime attorney is remembered for his sharp legal mind and mentorship of young lawyers, but also for being a renaissance man who loved to read, hunt and cook a good meal. Read more
Thomas L. Kielty, 80, worked for decades at the Omaha World-Herald in advertising, circulation and marketing, rising to director of circulation and president of a subsidiary, World Enterprises. But it was his family that he prioritized. Kielty died April 17. Read more
Richard “Rick’’ Wenninghoff, a cousin to the Wenninghoff Farm family in Omaha, died April 22 at age 72. He had retired from farming in the Crescent, Iowa, area several years ago. Before retiring, he grew corn and soybeans and lots of vegetables that he would sell at the farmers market in Council Bluffs. Read more
Seemingly boundless energy and a deep devotion to his Catholic faith were the hallmarks of Abbot Raphael Walsh’s service to the community. Walsh, who died of heart disease on April 25 at age 92, was in charge of Elkhorn Mount Michael School and the Benedictine Abbey there from 1966 to 1989. Read more
For more than a decade, Cecilia Olivarez Huerta advocated for the Latino community in Nebraska, including on a project to document the history and traditions of the community in the state. Olivarez Huerta died Thursday, May 2. She was 74. Read more
Frank Brown became a familiar face to many while covering news as a reporter on Omaha television. He parlayed that appeal and understanding of his community into a seat on the Omaha City Council, where he served from 1997 to 2009. He was known as a force that helped create housing options for the poor. He died May 2 at age 65. Read more
No one ever complained about any of the meals Fran Held put on the table at the Stephen Center homeless shelter. Held began working at the shelter near 27th and Q Streets when it opened in 1992 and was in the kitchen when former director Del Bomberger arrived in 2002. She was still there when he retired in 2015. Held, 95, died May 3. Read more
Officers from 200 law enforcement agencies across Nebraska and the United States gathered in Scottsbluff on June 27 to honor the first Nebraska State Patrol trooper to die in the line of duty in 20 years. Trooper Jerry Smith, 51, of Scottsbluff died June 20. Smith had been on patrol near Bridgeport when his vehicle was struck nearly head-on by another driver. Read more
Gene Morris, former publisher of the McCook Gazette, was always “lifting up the people on his staff,” said Sharyn Skiles, the Gazette’s current publisher. Morris, 80, died June 21 at the Kearney Regional Medical Center of double pneumonia and heart complications. Read more
Former rodeo performer Jim Riley rode into the Nebraska School Activities Association at the dawn of girls sports, and 31 years later it was off toward the sunset after overseeing unprecedented growth in the NSAA’s offerings. Riley, 86, died June 22 at his home in Lincoln. He was diagnosed with cancer last fall and was in palliative care since January. Read more
Darci Homan’s battle against non-Hodgkin lymphoma was a source of inspiration for the Gross Catholic High School girls basketball and soccer teams. Her three-year fight was so inspiring that both teams dedicated their 2019 seasons to Homan, who died June 26 at age 54. Read more
Doreen McNeil, a former waitress who bought the Pink Poodle restaurant in Crescent, Iowa, from her boss, inheriting dozens of cats in the process, has died. She was 60. McNeil had Parkinson’s disease, said John McNeil II, her husband and high school sweetheart. She died July 12. Read more
Jordan Stevens said his daughter Macy Stevens came into the world with a broken heart, but that didn’t stop her from "living a life beyond her years.” The 20-year-old, remembered by her family as a lover of music and someone who cared for animals, was surrounded by her family when she died July 12 from congestive heart failure. Read more
As 11-year-old Tessa Perez was taken into donor surgery on , medical professionals lined the hallway at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center for a “hero walk.” Tessa, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction, was the first organ donor at the Omaha hospital to have received this recognition. She was pronounced brain dead after suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts and going into anaphylactic shock. Read more
Mark Mercer at La Buvette, the Parisian-style cafe on 11th Street that he and his wife, Vera, opened in 1991. Mercer, who is widely recognized along with Vera and his father, Sam, for developing and preserving Omaha’s Old Market neighborhood, died Sept. 16 after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 75. Read more