Few men become legends in their lifetime… John David Fischer was just that. He was referred to by different nicknames over the years: the Maytown Rooster, Wolfman Jack, and simply Jacky to his family. But he will be remembered most as the Kingfish because he was a king among men. He was known for many things, but he was unforgettable for his ability to fight and never give up, and his ability to love unconditionally.
He was born on September 25, 1935 in Sublette, Illinois, during the Great Depression. He was the son of John and Pauline Fischer, and the oldest of 5 siblings. The Kingfish learned to fight from his father, who had a temper and a fondness for drinking. He learned to love from his mother who was a nurse and through her resilience and hard work, held the family together.
The Kingfish attended St. Anne’s, where he was constantly in trouble and often punished by the nuns. Later, he went to Amboy High School, but left school and earned his GED. Liking the water, he decided to join the Navy. That also didn’t work out. Not wanting to be told what to do, the Kingfish would jump overboard and find himself in fights. Although it was said he never started a fight, he never backed down from one either. After he was asked to leave the Navy he roamed across the U.S. and worked blue-collar jobs. He was restless and lost. He worked in the fields, on assembly lines, and in construction. He had over 100 jobs. He didn’t need to make much money, just enough to go honky tonking. He was a handsome man, 6 feet tall, clear blue eyes, and long wavy hair. He was a pool shark, an amazing dancer, and did I mention he was a fighter? There are many stories that added to his legacy during this turbulent time, when he stole the Miller Lite truck, or when the police got him off the water tower, or when he was shot at, or when he got into a fight because the bartender wouldn’t serve his black friend. He fought often and didn’t always win, but never gave up. He would stay out all night and howl at the moon, but was never late for work.
He was a rebel without a cause until he met Shirley Ellen Russell. Shirley was a small town girl and single mom of four teenage kids. When the Kingfish met Shirley, he fell madly in love.
Shirley’s friends asked her, “What the hell do you see in that wild man?” And she would reply, “He is not afraid to feel things. When he’s happy, he laughs, and when he’s sad, he cries.” Shirley was in love too. They married on December 30, 1972, in Dixon, Illinois. Now the Kingfish had something to fight for.
Slowly, the Kingfish started to change. Suddenly he had four teenage “causes” that went through 3 gallons of milk and 2 loaves of bread in a single weekend and soon there was a baby on the way. He cut his hippie hair, put down his pool cue, and bought a suit. He knew he couldn’t take care of his new family with the jobs he had in the past, he also knew that he was not a corporate guy. Since he liked to have things done his way, he set about starting his own business.
His first taste of success was selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. Sales was a hard job, but a good job for a fighter. He started selling on his own, but soon he grew a small army of salesmen and became the factory distributor for the state. He loved being an entrepreneur and had a knack for sales because he knew how to talk to people. Unfortunately, the Kirby business was one of many businesses that he started that didn’t work. Nevertheless, he didn’t give up.
In 1982, in search of opportunities, he moved to Houston, Texas, which was booming at the time. He found an apartment and 6 months later sent for Shirley and the only child still living at home. With unwavering dedication, Shirley sold all the furnishings, packed up their personal things, and left her family, small town, and everything familiar behind to follow the man she loved.
Houston was a long ways away from the idyllic small town by the river. Shortly after they arrived, Houston went through a recession. The new city did not deliver all of the hopes and dreams they had wished for, but he was broke and returning to their home wasn’t an option. Being a fighter, the Kingfish dug his heels in to make it work.
While Shirley supported the family on minimum wage, the Kingfish tried everything, from selling cigarette vending machines, to selling shrimp and fruit on the side of the road. After his attempt to build and sell wooden furniture had failed, he was left with a junky delivery truck and a stack of bills. Rich people go bankrupt, poor people go broke… the Kingfish was broke. At the age of 50, he was at the end of his line; however, Shirley never stopped believing in him, so he never gave up. He decided to put an ad in the paper for moving services. He had hoped it would get the family by financially until he could think of something better. If he could just make a little money to pay the rent…
His moving company, 3 Men Movers, would grow into a multimillion dollar corporation. Even though he became wealthy and successful, he never forgot his struggles and was always willing to help others. He was the coach in everyone’s corner. He would lecture, motivate, and push them back into the ring of life to fight another round. He gave away millions of dollars to help his family, friends, and employees. Sometimes it was just to make ends meet, other times he would finance the down payment for a new home or help someone start their own business. Having been poor all their life, Shirley would worry that his big heart would cost him because at times people would take advantage of him. The Kingfish would say, “I would rather be known for people taking advantage of me, than ever known for taking advantage of anyone,” and that is the way he lived his life.
In 2003, he sold 3 Men Movers to his daughter, Jacky, and retired in Crystal Beach, Texas. Due to the core values he instilled in the business and his daughter, 3 Men Movers continues to thrive and is now operating in the four largest cities in Texas, performing 30,000 moves a year.
After retirement, the Kingfish began to transform again and became an old hippie. He grew out his hair and settled into life, enjoying books, music and most of all his grandchildren. He was full of love and acceptance and still had the courage to speak out for his beliefs. Because even though the Kingfish didn’t believe in God, he believed in good. He also preached, “Love thy neighbor” and clarified that these words didn’t mean, “Only if your neighbor looks just like you.” In 2015, he bought a home along the Rock River in the town he called home, Dixon Illinois and his life slowed down. He and Shirley would have lunch at his favorite bar the Alley Loop, and he would listen to music with his 2 dogs and look out at the river. He enjoyed visits from his family who he loved dearly. Finally, the Kingfish didn’t need to fight anymore, so now he just loved.
Towards the end, he developed Parkinson’s disease. People thought it was from all the fighting he did early in his life. The disease made it hard for him to walk and on August 21, 2016, he fell. The doctors in the ICU tried to save him by hooking him up to machines and tying his arms down to keep him from pulling things out. But as you know, the Kingfish was a fighter and nobody ties down the Kingfish. He fought for days against the restraints until the doctors finally said there was no hope and untied him. By then, tired from fighting his whole life, he settled into a deep sleep. They took him home and put him in bed facing the Rock River. In the wee hours of the 28th of August his son Patrick whispered in his ear, “You are the Kingfish, the king of all the river fish,” and the Kingfish smiled. Later that day surrounded by love, he slipped away. Most people have never heard of the Kingfish, but those who met him will never forget him.