They had hoped to surprise him Friday with cheering crowds and a procession of dozens of fire engines from across Illinois. But after a long fight with cancer, Oglesby firefighter Evan Knoblauch passed away Wednesday evening. He was 20.

Friends and supporters from St. Bede Academy, Evan’s alma mater, and throughout Oglesby were grieving today and also for much of the morning were wrestling with whether to cancel or reschedule Friday’s detailed program.

The program Friday now will be held as a tribute, according to Oglesby fire chief Ron Popurella and Bonnie Prokup at St. Bede Academy, lead organizer for “Evan’s Friday night” at St. Bede. Popurella said a fire truck parade still planned. A candle vigil will be held at 7:40 p.m. at St. Bede following a Mass.

Both Popurella and Prokup said the Knoblauch family was consulted before the decision was made to go ahead with the program.

Popurella said he and his company knew Knoblauch’s prognosis was bleak, but his passing still caught everyone off guard.

“We’re not taking it well,” Popurella said. “I talked to people last night and there were a lot of tears. We did not expect it to happen this quickly.”

Though not yet certified by the state — Popurella said getting Knoblauch certified posthumously would be a top priority — Knoblauch had completed his primary training with distinction, reporting for class directly after receiving cancer treatments and with no regard for his pain.

Knoblauch quickly earned the respect of his brother firefighters despite his short service. Popurella noted Knoblauch’s last call was to a car accident on June 30, the same day he divulged his prognosis was terminal.

Prior to earning his dress blues, Knoblauch had been a standout student-athlete at St. Bede, which had planned an exhibition flag-football game in Knoblauch’s honor.

“Evan was a very brave young man who found out he had cancer when he was a high school senior and battled it courageously for 2½ years,” said Abbot Philip Davey, O.S.B. “He was a person of faith and was very close with our chaplain, Father Ronald.

“His death is a real loss to all of us at St. Bede.”

Oglesby residents, meanwhile, have honored Knoblauch’s courage with red porch lights that have remained illuminated over the many months he juggled treatments with his city service.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the Knoblauch family,” Mayor Dom Rivara said this morning. “Last night, Evan lost his battle with cancer and what the family is going through right now is unimaginable. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. We all need to support the Knoblauch family in their loss of Evan.”

Arrangements are pending with Ptak Funeral Home, Peru.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.

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Tom Collins is the NewsTribune Senior Reporter. He can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com.

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