weather icon Mostly Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Maker of crosses for Oct. 1 victims considered it his calling

Handmade cross by handmade cross, tens of thousands of them in all, he spent over 20 years memorializing the lives of others.

Now, Greg Zanis is nearing the end of his.

An Illinois man who brought 58 handmade crosses to Las Vegas in 2017 to honor the victims of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, Zanis has been diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer.

He has less than six months to live.

“I’m real weak,” Zanis said from his home in Aurora, Illinois, where’s he in hospice care. “I feel exhausted.”

You hear it in his voice, the hard-earned fatigue of a man who dedicated decades of his life to his Crosses for Losses organization, driving around the country — over 800,000 miles total — to pay tribute to the victims of violent crimes with his large white crosses.

The Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland tragedies, in 1999, 2012 and 2018, respectively.

The Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016.

The El Paso shooting in October.

Zanis traveled to all those sites.

And in October 2017, when this city was wracked by grief, he came here, placing his crosses around the “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, and returned the following year.

Zanis considers it his calling.

“Nobody wants their loved one to be forgotten,” he said. “It just means so much to these family members. It keeps a sense of a family member alive for everybody’s sake.”

It all began with a family tragedy of Zanis’ own.

“I started because I found my wife’s father shot in the head, dead, and then there was a 6-year-old kid killed in Aurora, Illinois,” explained Zanis, a retired carpenter. “That really was devastating on me and my life.”

Decades later, it all began to take its toll on Zanis, who spent increasing amounts of time on the road.

He got a new truck 2½ years ago.

It already has over 78,000 miles on it.

“I did all the major shootings in America last year, and that just got to be way, way too many for one man to do,” said Zanis, who handed over Crosses for Losses to Lutheran Church Charities in December. “It was just too hard. I realized that I needed to stop it for my own sake.”

In March, Zanis learned he had cancer.

He had his bladder removed, to no avail.

“I’ve got at least 50 polyps in me,” he said. “They won’t take me for treatment any more.”

Zanis’ wife, Susie Zanis, launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral expenses, with nearly $37,000 of their $40,000 goal having already been met.

He recently self-published a book, “Greg Zanis: The Cross Man,” which chronicles his life’s work.

Throughout his travels, Zanis covered his substantial expenses largely on his own.

“Financially, it’s been a huge burden,” he said. “Around Vegas, I was $19,000 in debt.”

Still, he carried on as long as he could.

Now, Zanis will be remembered for all that he did to preserve the memories of others.

His crosses will see to that.

All 27,772 of them.

“I know what it means to people,” he said. “They can keep track: ‘My son matters.’ It’s what America is.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.