Last week Munster said farewell to a true public servant, Fire Chief and Director of Operations James J. Knesek Sr.
Jim was a lifelong resident except for the years he served his country as a firefighter in the U.S. Army.
He started his career for the Munster Street Department in 1979 on the back of a garbage truck, like all new employees.
Jim liked that assignment because it allowed him to attend Lewis College afternoons and evenings. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1982 in fire science and public administration, degrees that served him and the town well.
Jim formally joined the Munster Fire Department Nov. 1, 1979, and rose through the ranks of both departments. He took the helm of public works July 31, 1995 and, in 2005, after the death of Chief Robert C. Nowaczyk, he was named the seventh chief of the Munster Fire Department.
Under his direction both departments made advancements with equipment, technology and best practices. The town has always taken pride in snow removal and de-icing services. Under Jim’s direction, the departments upgraded salt spreading technology and liquid de-icing capabilities.
The town has had an aggressive street resurfacing program for many years, and Jim always pushed for more resources to get more done. In the fire service, Chief Knesek endorsed and actively promoted the utilization of town employees as members to improve the daytime response to emergency calls.
All of us will miss Jim’s smiling face and quick wit at work. I often thought of him as the conscience of the department heads. More often than not he knew how the community felt about issues.
If one sign of respect is how many people show up at your funeral, Chief Knesek was very well respected. Fifty-seven fire, police, emergency departments and agencies participated in the funeral.
A special thanks goes out the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association for their moving tribute at the visitation. The Supporting Heroes organization was very helpful to the family and the town. They began arriving just hours after Jim passed away and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure everything went smoothly on the way and at the cemetery.
The Town of Munster family drew together with pride and supported each other from the moment we heard the terrible news.
Touching was a funeral procession more than a mile long, bagpipes and drums, American Legion Post 16 performing a rifle salute, taps, the Bell Ceremony, the presentation of the U.S. and state flags and chief’s helmet to his wife, Julie, and son, Jimmy. Many of us were moved to see the student body at St. Thomas More School standing outside of the church with hands over hearts in salute to a true hero.
Dedicated to the residents of Munster for 34 of his 59 years, Jim Knesek worked for two organizations his entire adult life, the U.S. Army and the Town of Munster.
Director of Operations and Fire Chief James J. Knesek Sr., we say good bye and salute a life well lived.
The temperature on Jan. 6 was -20 degrees below zero Farenheit with a -40-degree wind chill. The blizzard of 2014 is here and gone, and the snowdrifts are now small piles.
I want to take this opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to the many Town of Munster employees who worked tirelessly from 4 p.m. Jan. 4 through Jan. 7.
In addition to personnel in the Public Works and Parks departments, we had several employees from the Police and Fire departments plowing snow. Several residents who are experienced plow drivers that work as needed.
Members of the fire department were stationed around the clock to insure quick response times. Several call-outs were made to assist motorists and ambulance crews.
Many of our responders live in other communities. They made it in, but some did not make it home every night, instead staying with friends or relatives.
One piece of good luck was being spared from any water main breaks during the extreme cold. We were not so lucky on the New Year’s holiday, having two breaks.
The fast-changing temperatures often cause shifts in the ground that may lead to main breaks. The lack of snow cover before the blizzard aggravated the problem.
Salt and de-icing is another issue during extreme cold. The town has a pre-wetting method that we use in anticipation of snow. This helps with the initial snow, making driving and plowing easier.
We treat all of our salt with liquid calcium chloride for better performance. However, when it gets in the single digits, these methods lose their effectiveness.
If you live on a cul-de-sac or have an alley, these areas are cleared after other streets. Single-lane passes are made on streets and cul-de-sac to make them passable. We do this to help accommodate emergency vehicles.
During the storm the first priority is main and arterial streets, then residential areas. Cleaning cul-de-sacs takes smaller equipment and more time.
Our goal is to have everything cleared back to curbs and all intersections plowed back within 8–10 hours after the snow ends.
What can you do to help?
Get cars off the street during snowstorms. When we have to plow around a car, the vehicle is stuck and it is dangerous for our drivers and it leaves the street in an unsatisfactory condition.
In heavy snows take a few minutes to clear all around the fire hydrant near your house, saving time in an emergency. Also, make sure storm water inlets are clear. Melting snow or rain needs some place to drain. Clear your walks and those of your elderly neighbors.
We get requests to stop plowing into driveways. We don’t do it deliberately - there is not a place to put the snow.
Many thanks to those who have called or sent a note about Munster’s response to the blizzard.
Overall, I think we all did a good job; schools were closed due to the cold, not impassable roads. Residents stayed home, for the most part, which helped crews focus on the task at hand.
Let's hope it is years before we see the likes of this storm again.
This is the time of the year when everyone looks back to their personal accomplishments and looks forward to resolutions for the new year.
In the coming weeks, The Times and other media will recount the important stories in news, sports, and business from 2013. I want to reflect back on a few things that have impacted our Munster community.
On a regional basis, the two most significant accomplishments would be the adoption of the Lake County Optional Income Tax and the pending E-911 Consolidation. The Illiana Expressway, another major event, is a story still to be finished.
The passage of the income tax, while not popular, is critical to the future fiscal stability of all governments in Lake County. For property owners, the income tax will provide for countywide property tax relief that will be reflected in property tax bills beginning in 2014.
Another component of the 1.5 percent income tax will provide local governments with a dedicated source of revenue devoted to police and fire services. In almost every community the budgets of the police and fire departments consume a major portion of property taxes, making it difficult to fund other needed services.
The third component is the County Economic Development Income Tax, providing local governments an opportunity to invest in capital and economic development projects that will spur growth.
Munster’s initial plan for 2014 is to hold 34 percent in reserve for the upcoming discussion of mass transit funding. The remainder is devoted to expenses for the design work of the long-awaited grade separation.
The significance of the E911 consolidation was the willingness of the cities, towns and county to work together and develop a solution to fund and operate the combined E911 center.
The Town of Munster, NIRPC, the Village of Lansing and the Lan-Oak Park District celebrated, in October, The Golden Spoke connection of the Pennsy-Greenway as it joined a common bike path in Illinois and Indiana.
The next major regional initiative will be an effort to bring mass transit to all of Northwest Indiana. The investment to develop a comprehensive bus and train system is long overdue. The lack of an integrated mass transit system that enables residents to get to good paying jobs is one of the major defects in our local economy.
One only has to look to the mass transit system serving the greater Chicago metro area to see that as trains move out to communities, economic development follows.
In 2013 we saw the completion of work in Community Park for Munster Little League and the community’s baseball leagues. In 2014, it will be Babe Ruth League’s turn for improvements.
A new hotel and several restaurants and other businesses should open in 2014. Community Hospital’s vertical expansion will be closer to completion and Franciscan Physicians Hospital will see an expansion of its Munster property.
On behalf of all employees, elected officials and hundreds of volunteers, I thank you for your continued support and a safe and happy holiday season.
“Doing The Most Good” is The Salvation Army’s national brand strategy and distinct identifiable message, according to its website. Moreover, it is a promise the organization makes to its contributors, clients, associates, officers and employees.
It is a goal that The Army strives to achieve everyday here in Lake County. One of the most recognized holiday symbols around the world is the Red Kettle and bell ringer of The Salvation Army.
The 2013 holiday bell ringing campaign got underway Nov. 7 at Strack & Van Til’s store in Highland, thanks to Frank Van Til and the Strack and Van Til Corporation.
I have the privilege of serving with The Salvation Army on the Lake County Advisory Board and the Hammond/Munster Corps Advisory Council. As chairman, I see the many things that The Salvation Army does locally, every day, to help those in need.
I ask that you consider helping the Salvation Army reach its fundraising goals for this season. The Red Kettle campaign in Lake County provides 50 percent of our annual operating budget. This year our goal is $960,000.
It is not hard to give up an indulgence for a short time to give someone having a difficult time a happy holiday. Here are a few ideas:
- Whenever you see a bell ringer or counter kettle, drop in some spare change or a few dollar bills.
- Drop a gold coin in the kettle. It always creates excitement and a great news story.
- If you are a small business owner with a lot of foot traffic, request a counter kettle. Call your local corps to arrange a drop-off.
- Business, church groups, service clubs, neighborhood groups and even families can volunteer to staff a kettle for one day or more often.
- Individuals (older than 16) can volunteer in two-hour blocks to staff a kettle location.
- Start an online Red Kettle and get your “Friends” to donate. The kettle can appear on Facebook, Twitter and Google. Donations stay in Lake County. Go to www.onlineredkettle.org.
- When purchasing gifts for family and friends, buy one less for everyone on your list. Donate the extra gifts to The Salvation Army Christmas Shop.
- Don’t know what to buy? Stop by or call the local Salvation Army Corps for an Angel Tree card or suggestion.
- Don’t have time to shop? Write a check, drop it off, or mail it to your local corps. A volunteer worker will go shopping for you and remember, it is a tax-deductible contribution
Items always needed include winter jackets, hats, mittens, and scarves. What kid doesn’t want a toy, game, or sports item? Teenagers need age-appropriate gifts. If you donate items that require batteries, please supply them.
All three Lake County Salvation Army units will be collecting new items or accepting cash for the upcoming holiday toy and clothing program. Donations will be used to help hundreds of children have the type of holiday every kid deserves.
The three corps have received more than 2,000 requests from families and nearly 1,000 from seniors for holiday assistance. The Lake County total is expected to exceed 8,000 people.
Contact your local Salvation Army office for more information: Hammond-Munster Corps – (219) 838-0380; Gary-Merrillville Corps – (219) 887-6588; and East Chicago Corps – (219) 398-2939.
This column is not about the politics of what has been going on in Washington D.C. for the past few weeks. Everyone has their own opinion and like many emotional positions, no one is likely to move from their beliefs.
The U.S. House and Senate finally, with hours to spare before the U.S. reached the Federal Debt Ceiling, approved a “kick the can down the road” settlement good until after the first of the year, and President Barack Obama signed it.
In a few months it will be "déjà vu all over again." Let’s hope that our leaders in Washington can learn that government by crisis is not the way to govern. Let’s hope we get a real solution for some long-term stability.
The uncertainty is not good for consumer spending, the stock market or our position as the leader of the free world.
I want to congratulate the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who continued to work at their jobs without being paid for the past 16 days. They have been promised that they will be paid once the “shutdown” is over.
Working for IOU’s happened in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, but shouldn't happen in the 21st Century. A few weeks ago, a motorist attempted to crash the gates, first at the White House and then the Capitol. Hundreds of police responded and while, unfortunately, the motorist was fatally shot, the young child in her car was unharmed. One Capitol police pfficer was injured.
All of the officers and other federal employees that were involved were on duty without pay. At major airports, TSA agents and air traffic controllers remained on duty. If you were able to fly to your vacation destination or business appointment, you probably did not care about a shutdown, but you got to your destination because those people stayed on the job.
The shutdown of the federal government did stop many activities and shut down some sites, including the monuments at the Capital Mall and National Parks, the Center for Disease Control, Department of Agriculture Food inspectors and other agencies. We all read in the paper and saw on TV the closing of the mall and Grand Canyon.
There were hundreds of other programs affected, but they may not have an on impact on us. Often in our everyday lives, we do not think about the things that all levels of government do that impact our lives.
It takes a shutdown to show the impact. When you visit the monuments or a National Park, the people in the National Park uniforms are in the background. Without a federal government, these things do not exist for our use and enjoyment.
What will the final settlement include? Likely, it will include things that both sides do not like, but isn’t that the very definition of a compromise? It should also include a thank you to the federal employees who continue to do their job for all of us.
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