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.