Mokena man’s career more than a pipe dream
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent May 1, 2013 4:02PM
Craig Heim, village of Mokena public works department utilities supervisor, is retiring after 37 years in public works. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 3, 2013 6:02AM
Craig Heim wouldn’t have had much of an excuse for being late for his job as the utilities superintendent in Mokena for the past 14 years.
His home is directly across the street from Mokena’s wastewater treatment plant — Heim’s second home for a good part of his 37 years of service to the village.
Heim, 55, and his wife, Sharon, built their house in 1986, the same year the plant was built.
They raised their sons — Brian, who died at age 22 in 2001; Daniel, 33, who lives in Mokena with his wife and child; and Wes, 27, who lives with his parents — in the same community where Heim was born and raised.
Despite his Mokena roots and plans to remain there in retirement, Heim couldn’t have known how connected he would become to his hometown when he applied as a 16-year-old Lincoln-Way High School sophomore for a part-time summer maintenance position.
Heim said he liked the work well enough to remain a part-timer until he graduated in 1975, and then applied for a full-time position with public works.
“I kind of did everything,” Heim said. “There were only three employees in the entire public works department then.”
Heim said “everything” included patching streets, cutting grass, taking care of the water system, maintaining the wastewater treatment plant, and all the snow plowing.
The village was much smaller then — about 2,000 residents — and not too much work, he said, for the three employees to handle.
“From then on, it grew,” Heim said. The town now has about 19,000 residents.
In the mid-1980s, subdivisions such as Green Meadows and Tomahawk Trails began to “pop up” in Mokena, the first signs of greater growth to come. Heim became the public works director in 1986 — the same year the village received a “Build Illinois” grant which, Heim said, “worked out well for Mokena.”
On Heim’s watch, water and sewer lines were laid out along 191st Street all the way to LaGrange Road, making it possible for new businesses to thrive in the area.
As public works director, Heim oversaw much of the village’s expansion, but since much of his work took place from a desk at village hall rather than in the field, he was not in his optimal element, he said.
When the opportunity came in 1998, Heim took over the position of utilities superintendent.
“I wanted to get more back into the operations part of it rather than the administration,” Heim said. “I like to go out where the construction work is and doing inspections and seeing things built. I kind of missed being in the system.”
Heim’s love of his work has not gone unnoticed. He recently received the Samuel A. Greeley Lifetime Achievement Award from the Chicago Southwest Branch of the American Public Works Association for his more than 30 years with the same municipality and for his commitment to the well-being of the public.
“It meant a lot to me to be nominated by my peers,” Heim said. “I was really touched.”
The award, which Heim said will go on his “wall of fame” at home with his EPA certifications, came just months before Heim’s actual retirement on March 31, which had been delayed from November 2012.
Heim agreed to the village’s request that he stay on during the possibly difficult winter months to help with the “transition” of several employees who will assume his various responsibilities.
“I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting, just in the last year ... on when I first started and how there were just three of us, then five, then six,” Heim said.
Heim said working on each road that was widened, the miles of water main and sewer lines that were laid, and the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant in a “tiny, small farm town surrounded by nothing but farm fields to about 19,000 people” has made his 37 years of working for Mokena meaningful.
“To see all that occur during the time I’ve worked here is kind of the special thing I reflect on and that I’m proud of being a part of,” he said.