Goodbye to ‘Mr. Summit’
Memorial Saturday for late fire chief Nemeth
By Steve Metsch
The man that many around town call “Mister Summit” will be honored on Saturday.
John M. Nemeth Jr., former fire chief of Summit, who also worked in public works and was a part-time police officer in the village, died earlier this year in downstate Illinois, where he had retired.
On Saturday, his many friends in the village of Summit will say goodbye on John Nemeth Day.
A viewing of photographs will be held from 11 a.m. to noon at the firehouse, 7339 W. 59th St., with a memorial presentation starting at noon.
After that, a procession will head toward Summit Park for some light refreshments in the Sparks Building or at the pavilion, weather permitting.
Memories will be plenty for Summit Deputy Fire Chief Frank Batura.
“I’ve known him for more than 50 years. We were in Argo High School together,” Batura said in the fire house last week. “We didn’t hang out in high school. He was from the Summit side and I was from the Argo side of the tracks, but we went back quite a while.”
They spent decades working together on the fire department.
“I can’t say enough good things about him. He’d give you the shirt off his back. When people talk about John, they’ll say what a great guy he was, because he was,” Batura, 69, said.
Nemeth, 69, died on March 3 in Baptist Health in Paducah, Ky. He had complications from kidney disease, Batura said. Nemeth was on dialysis three days a week and needed a kidney transplant, Batura said.
Nemeth had retired to downstate Golconda with his wife Ruth (nee Keena). They were married 50 years. “Hopefully, she’s going to make it up here,” Batura said.
Although he lived far from his roots, Summit was always a part of Nemeth.
“He used to come up here and work shifts during holidays to give the guys days off,” Batura said. “He would still do that until he needed dialysis. But that’s the kind of guy John was. And, truthfully, when he came up here, there was a revolving door of people stopping in to tell him hello.”
In 1969, the then 19-year-old Nemeth began working for the village as a garbageman. He worked his way to the water department and started working for the fire department in 1970.
“He knew everyone in town and every address in town from reading all those water meters,” Batura said.
Nemeth retired as fire chief in 2004, but was active on the department until 2016 when he and his wife moved.
Even then, he was still active, working for the Pope and Hardin county ambulance service until 2018, and the fire departments of Pope County and Golconda.
Back in Summit, Nemeth was an EMT for the fire department from 1975 to 2016, and a part-time police officer from 1979 to 2016.
“Police used to walk ‘The Ramp’ when they had all the bars there. They’d walk in pairs, go into the bars, make sure everything was fine. That was part of their job, walking the beat,” Batura said.
And if things got tense, “he could calm down any situation,” said Batura, who fondly recalls fishing on the Chain o’ Lakes with his friend.
A tree will be planted in Nemeth’s memory in Legion Park, with a plaque nearby, Batura said.
The fire department is planning to remember Nemeth.
“We’re going to put a post and name the driveway to our parking lot ‘John Nemeth Memorial Drive’,” Batura said.
“He was at every fire. He was a leader, and anybody would follow him.”
— Desplaines Valley News