When you ponder the concept of a tribute, a pump house may not be the first thing to cross your mind.
But there's no more fitting honor for late Water Superintendent James Nietfeldt, family said. Officials dedicated a pump house that he helped with "from start to finish" during a ceremony on May 24, a little more than a year after he died following a lengthy battle with colon cancer. He was 46 years old.
His widow, Stacy Nietfeldt, applauded the village for its work giving her husband a well deserved nod.
“There’s a plaque outside on the wall and there’s a big rock with an engraving on it in front of the pump house," she said, adding that the house, which stands at 183rd Street and Ridgeland Avenue, was his "baby." "It was such a beautiful ceremony.”
Stacy said her husband dedicated himself to helping village residents. In addition to the pumping station, he played a key role in ending flooding problems west of Oak Park Avenue.
“He designed the water system to control flooding behind the roller rink as part of the Barretts project,” she said.
Stacy said she and Village Manager Scott Niehaus often joked about her husband being directionally challenged since he grew up on 183rd Street in , lived in a house on 183rd Street in Homewood, attended St. John Lutheran Church on 183rd Street in Country Club Hills and did so much work along the thoroughfare. He was a happy-go-lucky, generous friend to all, officials have said.
He joined the local public works team in 1992 after going to school to learn how to make crowns and bridges for dental patients, Stacy said.
“He hated that job,” she said.
That's the opposite of how he felt about working for the village, though he never realized his true dream of being the director of public works in Tinley. Nietfeldt worked his way up through the ranks and officially served as water superintendent from 2005 until his death. He ran the department unofficially for a couple of years before that, Stacy said.
“He died on his birthday, March 24,” she said, noting that since she works as a records clerk at the Tinley Park and Homewood police departments, officers from both showed up in droves to his funeral.
She met Jim as a teenager, while the two worked at a local retirement home. She recalled stories last week of qualities people may not have known Jim had—such as an affinity for acting.
“We didn’t know he was an actor and a singer until he appeared in a couple of church productions,” she said.
When she misses him—she and myriad others surely do—all she has to do is look down.
“I got a water tower tattooed on my right ankle,” she said, noting that it joins a colon cancer tattoo on the opposite ankle. “It’s in blue, because that’s the color for colon cancer.”