On Jan. 29, Arnold Kreloff died of a heart attack. According to friends and family at his funeral, he had been a shy man from a family whose men died young. He struggled to initiate relationships, and at one point in his life lost touch with many friends. A man trying to find his way, he would spend days with his teenage nephew. Kreloff would tell his nephew he wouldn’t live past 40, and that no one would attend his funeral.
Kreloff turned 40 in 1986. But more than a decade later, he was still saying that his funeral would be forlorn. On Friday, mourners at Mount Vernon Presbyterian church had to stand up and squeeze closer together in the pews. The sanctuary strained to contain them all.
“ARNOLD WAS AFRAID to fly,” Geri Fields, pastor at Mount Vernon Presbyterian, told the mourners, “but he longed to go on the space shuttle. He wanted to see the world all at one time. If he was going to risk it all he wanted to see it all.”
He was born in Philadelphia in 1946 and spent the first part of his life in a row house on a block that housed many members of his family. His best friend recalled games of backyard baseball and bike excursions into the woods. This was before the invention of now-ubiquitous, rugged mountain bikes with fat tires designed for dirt trails.“There was no official mountain biking back then,” said Al Kozen, who drove from Philadelphia for the funeral, “but we took the bikes we had and took them through the woods.” After high school, the friends took their car on road trips to Florida and Canada. Kozen taught Kreloff about electronics, and Kreloff taught Kozen about his passion, photography.
Kreloff turned his love of photography into a job as an evidence technician for the Philadelphia Police Department. His then-teenage nephew found him a kindred spirit. At the funeral service, Brad Weinburg said he would stay with his Uncle Arnie (“Uncle Onion” to Weinburg’s young sister) for days at a time. He would listen to his uncle philosophize, and Kreloff would listen to his nephew’s teenage complaints about parental restrictions. “He was always sympathetic and allowed me to have that as an outlet.”
Weinburg recalled one memorable trip home from the movies. In the darkness and pouring rain, Kreloff spotted an injured dog in the middle of the highway. He swerved around it, pulled onto the median, ran into the road and dragged the dog to the side. It was still breathing, but died despite Kreloff’s call to the veterinarian.
“Whenever I deal with animals, I always think about the love and compassion that he had for them,” Weinburg said.
Kreloff left Philadelphia and moved to Dover, Del. when he was 35. He had been the best man at both of Kazen’s weddings, but fell out of touch after the move. Kazen thinks Kreloff did not want to be found. In her homily, Fields described Kreloff as a shy man who, for much of his life, longed for deeper relationships that he struggled to initiate. This lack in his life made him feel lonely and shunned. He eventually moved to Northern Virginia and became a technician at Belle View’s Dale Photo and then Ritz Camera in Springfield. He was terrible with names, but when one customer came in the shop a second time, he was ready with hers. Arnold Kreloff’s marriage to Nancy redefined his life, everyone at the funeral agreed.
Weinburg noted the irony of his uncle’s predictions about his death and his funeral. “It was life after 40 that was so much more rewarding to him, enriching for him. The contentment he had with Nancy is something I don’t think he’d ever thought he’d have.”
MANY AT THE FUNERAL knew Arnold Kreloff through his wife. Nancy Kreloff is an assistant principal at West Potomac High School. At the funeral, Alex Case said he’d come to appreciate Arnold Kreloff as a surrogate father who was passionate about writing, photography, animals, movies, comic books, family and heated political debate. Case met Arnold after graduating from Lee High School and offering to help Nancy, his former social studies teacher, move her things to the school where she’d been promoted, Thomas Jefferson.
Arnold Kreloff had a serious heart attack in 1997, and had to retire in 2004. After that he dedicated his time to caring for five dogs and supporting his wife as she moved upward in the Fairfax County School System. The couple ate breakfast together every morning at their home in Stratford Landing, and Arnold always had dinner ready when Nancy got home from work.
The principal of West Potomac, Rima Vesilind, praised Kreloff for the support he gave his wife, which allowed her to dedicate extra hours to her students and the school community. Vesilind said he ensured that “Nancy had the strength inside her so she could give so much to the rest of us.”
Speaking at the funeral, Nancy Kreloff recalled her husband’s love of red roses. From the beginning of their relationship, he made a point of sending them to her. Throughout the first years of her marriage, he continued filling her life with red roses. Nancy was coping with grave illness in her own family when Arnold had his first heart attack. On her birthday, she was shuttling between hospitals. From his hospital bed, Kreloff called the florist and ordered a delivery of red roses for his grievously stressed wife. Receiving them, Nancy burst into tears.
“Honey, it’s okay,” said Arnold, trying to relieve what he assumed were tears of joy.
“No,” Nancy explained, “I hate red roses.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” her husband asked.
“I was trying to be nice,” she said, the tears still coming.
Telling the story, Kreloff was able to smile as laughter filled the church. “After that,” she said, “he always bought me yellow roses.”
Below her, a bouquet of roses sat on Arnold Kreloff’s coffin: one yellow rose in a cluster of red. “He was the red roses and I was the yellow rose,” she said. “He was the one who gave me love and helped me up and got me going and said, ‘You can do this and everything is possible.’”