By DON STINE
A beloved local bartender who perished in an early morning apartment fire in Ocean Grove Feb. 6, is being fondly remembered by his friends, coworkers and customers.
Michael Jennings, 52, was killed in the fire that swept through the third-story apartment he shared with his wife, Catherine, near Central Avenue and Broadway. Catherine, 52, was sent to a burn unit in Philadelphia. She has been released from the hospital and is recuperating with friends and family including their daughters, Siobhan and Danielle.
The cause of the fire, which is not suspicious, is under investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
Jennings was a well-known and well-liked bartender at Kim Marie’s Eat n’ Drink Away and at Johnny Mac’s House of Spirits- both located in Asbury Park. Staff and customers at both establishments are devastated by the tragedy.
The following is posted on the Johnny Mac’s Facebook page:
“With heavy hearts, we sadly share with you the passing of a coworker, a friend, a husband, a father… Anyone that knew Michael knows the only thing bigger than his smile was his heart. Michael always had the most positive outlook on life, and we try to continue that for him today.
“Johnny Mac’s is a family and a second home to many of us. In this extended family, Michael is our Irish mascot, our warm smile on Sunday mornings, our belly laugh just when we need it, our best-dressed bartender every Halloween, our jokester, and our helping hand.
“In the wake of this unexpected loss, we laughed, we cried, we remembered, and we tried… we tried to think it wasn’t real… but he never came back through that bar door. We all appreciate the sentiments and well wishes. We ask for prayers for Michael’s wife and daughters.”
A wake for Jennings will be held from 4 to 8 pm at the Orender Funeral Home, 2643 Old Bridge Road in Manasquan, on Thurs., Feb. 13.
Jennings customers are also expressing shock at his sudden passing.
“Michael was a really good guy who was fun to talk to. His humor was witty and never mean-spirited. It was interesting to hear his views on America from his Irish perspective. He was devoted to his wife and daughters. He will be missed by many,” said James Morey, a regular customer at Kim Marie’s.
Ocean Township resident Marianne Tantrum, who often saw Jennings on a Wednesday at Kim Marie’s, was shocked by the news.
“I was just in there Wednesday and he was smiling as always,” she said. “He would always greet us as we came in. It’s just hard to believe.”
Cheryl Cadmus, who also lived in the same apartment building, said she believed Jennings went back into the building to save his dog. The prosecutor’s office confirmed the dog perished in the fire.
And friends and famiy in Ireland are also grieving.
His mother, Mary, and sister, Angela, were trying to arrange flights from Ireland to the United States this week.
Jennings is a former chairman of the Mayo Women’s Soccer League and served in the post when the county won the FAI Women’s Senior Cup in 2006, defeating UCD 1-0 in the final and qualifying for the European Cup.
“The soccer community in Mayo is deeply shocked and saddened by the news. Michael served the game with tremendous distinction during his time with the league and our heartfelt sympathy is tendered to the Jennings family at this time. Catherine is also very much in our prayers at this time as she makes her recovery,” said David Breen, the current chair of the league.
Catherine was a former secretary of the Mayo Women’s League.
Jennings was born in New York while his parents were living there. While he was still young the family left the United States and returned to Ireland. When he left Ireland 30 years ago to return to the United States he brought his distinctive Irish brogue accent back with him .
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay medical and other expenses. Donations can be sent to www.gofundme.com/f/jen
A special fund-raiser for the Jennings family is planned at Johnny Mac on Sun., March 22. More details will be announced.