Plumbing inspector, 93, to hang up clipboard : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Plumbing inspector, 93, to hang up clipboard|
|Former shopkeeper Schneider worked for Oswego, Yorkville and county|
|by Matt Schury|
Chances are if you bought a home in Kendall County in the last three decades John Schneider has seen your toilet. After 30 years as plumbing inspector for Kendall County Schneider, 93, is ready to retire, if only the County Board cooperates.
At the beginning of December Schneider said he was supposed to retire when the county's new fiscal year began but the county hasn't approved the contract with a new inspector yet.
"Here comes Dec. 1 and they're not ready yet so I did the inspections for December," Schneider said. "The way it sounds it will be a couple of weeks yet. I guess I'm supposed to be doing it until we get him in there."
Schneider has been a licensed plumber for 60 years and was the building inspector for the City of Yorkville from 1983 to 1994 as well as the Village of Oswego from 1986 to 2006. Before doing inspections, Schneider ran Schneider Appliance, a hardware and appliance and service store in downtown Yorkville, for many years.
Schneider opened the business in 1950 running it with his late wife Ruth.
"I did service work mainly until I finally got going enough to hire a couple of guys," he recalls.
Ruth, who died 13 years ago, took care of the store and kept the books. Then in 1983, the Illinois Department of Transportation widened the Route 47 bridge and bought Schneider's building at the corner of Hydraulic and Bridge as the land was needed for the approach to the bridge.
"The state bought the building and I went out of business," he said.
The next year then-Yorkville Mayor Bob Davidson convinced Schneider to be the city's building inspector. The two friends agreed it was supposed to be temporary.
"I hired him and at the time I told him it would be for just six months," Davidson said. "Every year he calls me up and says you know you lied to me."
Davidson maintains that, in all the years Schneider was the city's inspector, he never heard a complaint about Schneider and as far as he knows the county never got a complaint.
"John Schneider is a good friend, and he needed a job, and I needed a plumber and he had the license," he said. "He saved the taxpayers a lot of money and he's done a good job. It's somebody that I could trust. John was always fair with the people."
In May of 1983, he started doing building inspections and plumbing inspections for the City of Yorkville.
"I was doing the whole thing there, I was issuing the building permits and doing all the plumbing and building inspections," Schneider said.
Schneider was in his sixties when Davidson approached him about the "temporary" job.
"At that time I didn't want a full time job but he said, 'Take it for 90 days,'" Schneider related.
Schneider was born and raised in Yorkville, growing up where his father farmed, land that is now White Oak Estates Subdivision.
Schneider has always had an interest in working with his hands. He began working at Lyon Metal and took a correspondence course in refrigeration before joining the Navy during World War II. Schneider served stateside at Port Hueneme in California. He was a base security officer for about a year and spent two years in the Navy.
Schneider left the service in 1946 and moved back to Yorkville with his wife and two kids. He got a job doing service work for J.H. Nilles in Aurora which sold commercial refrigeration equipment like ice makers and freezers. The job required him to belong to the plumber's union and get his plumber's license.
The refrigeration business wasn't as busy during the winter so work wasn't always steady.
"People started calling me for service work and stuff," he said. "I kind of went on my own," he said.
He took over the appliance store in 1950. Before that, a woman named Ruth Spiller owned the store and Schneider recalls she was doing quite well with the business.
Spiller took on a partner in the late 1940s who eventually bought her out and tried running the business on his own. However, he went bankrupt in 1949 and Spiller still owned the building. She knew Schneider and asked him to try his hand at the business.
"She talked me into renting the building," he said. "I didn't have much money."
Brian Holdiman, the county's building inspector for the past 15 years, considers Schneider his mentor.
"I learned a lot from him, working with him. He's a great teacher, educator, all-around nice guy," he said. "He'd take time to explain things to people."
There were many things Schneider looked for, using the Illinois State Plumbing Code as his guide. He said that it might seem simple to install plumbing and most people don't give it a second thought until something goes wrong.
"Some say there ain't much to plumbing. Hell, the water runs through a pipe and you got a sewer and the crap goes down hill. Well, sure it does if everything is going alright," Schneider said. "You have to have the right sized pipes and certain gauged pipes for certain things."
He remembers when he started in Oswego he only had about nine inspections in a month and then it grew to over 200 a month.
Schneider saw the growth in Kendall County up close and first hand.
He said he would wonder what would happen to all the good farmland and wooded areas where they were building the homes.
"I always said if all these subdivisions keep going up, they are using all the good ground and eventually they'll have to go out in the desert some place west and irrigate and see if you can get the sand to grow something," he said. "They said eventually Joliet will be to Route 47."
When he came in to do the inspections, the builders were usually friendly and when something wasn't right he would not only tell them what was wrong but also try to explain why it wasn't right.
"I always used to wear a cap that belonged to the Illinois Plumbing Inspectors Association... then they know what you're there for," he said.
Trades people working on homes can occasionally get in each other's way.
For instance, he said when he was doing the inspections occasionally an electrician would cut a pipe out that was in his way that the plumber put in.
"The electrician would cut a chunk of pipe out and you'd see that right away," he said. "If nobody has seen that and it got insulated and rocked over there's a vent pipe that isn't doing anything."
In the early 1990s Schneider recalls Wrigley built its facility in Yorkville. It was one of his biggest jobs and the city inspected the 215,000 square foot facility 100 times. Shortly after Wrigley finished their building in 1994, Yorkville hired a full time inspector.
Schneider said commercial buildings are usually easier to inspect than residential.
"Out there at the Wrigley building they have what they call a laboratory where they do testing and they use different chemicals and those drain pipes there have to be a different schedule," he said. "Usually those places have a pretty reliable plumbing contractor and they know what the code is."
Homes built in agriculturally zoned unincorporated property aren't required to have their home inspected. Schneider says while someone building a home may save a few hundred bucks he believes the inspection is well worth it.
"When they're spending $200,000 or $300,000 or- more than that $600,000 to $700,000- and the inspections would only be a couple hundred dollars-why wouldn't it be worthwhile to have somebody come and see that everything is done right?," he said.
Some builders view inspectors as "the bad guys" but Schneider disagrees.
"You want it so it's done right," he said. "We don't go out there and raise hell for them but we're the eyes for the customer who is going to have that house and see that it's done right."
Holdiman and Schneider would frequently do inspections together. Holdiman recalls one inspection at a home still being built that still had rough planks instead of stairs.
"We walked down those planks and we got about halfway down and I jumped off to the side and was going to help him walk down. He was coming down and he said, 'I don't need you to hold my hand yet and if I were still in my eighties I would have jumped off to the side, too," Holdiman said.
Schneider has undoubtedly performed tens of thousands of inspections in his career for the city, village and county. Holdiman says Schneider's work with the county harkens back to a time when the county wasn't as big and doing five inspections a month was a lot. Schneider charged just $37 per residential inspection and $47 per commercial inspection. The county recently bid the plumbing inspection services for the first time in 30 years.
"This is basically based on a handshake and he would come out and do it for us," County Board member Scott Gryder said recently during a recent board meeting.
County Board Chairman John Shaw also sang the praises of Schneider.
"He's been around for a long time and he's an unbelievable guy," Shaw said.
Holdiman says he'd like to honor Schneider for serving the county for so long but is waiting for the County Board to officially appoint a new plumbing inspector, which is expected soon. Holdiman says he also knows that Schneider is a humble guy and won't like all the attention even if he's worth it.
"He is an incredible staple of the community," Holdiman said. "He wasn't doing it to get rich, that's for sure, he was doing it because he enjoyed it."
'Got to do something'
Schneider takes his age in stride but doesn't let it slow him down too much, he says.
"I don't know? What do you call retirement? I got to do something," he said.
Schneider is always doing things around the house and will continue to have coffee with his friends and fellow plumbers. He still occasionally shovels snow, though he knows he shouldn't
"I feed the birds and squirrels and have to sweep some snow, shovel a little snow," he said. "I still run my own lawn mower, I still do my own yard work."
He has arthritis in his right knee and has a cane that he is supposed to use.
"I don't want to get in the habit of using it unless I really have to," he said. "You don't get around quite as well and the thing is if you fall don't you ain't going to get up easy."
He admits getting around construction sites isn't as easy as it used to be, as most are muddy or slippery or you have to climb over things.
"That is something that I feel that I can't physically stay with that anymore," he said. "Your balance isn't as good and my right knee bothers me some. You gotta keep doing something. Stay active."
He says he's always amused when people a fraction his age complain about getting old.
"Some guys like to be old, they want to be old because then they get somebody to feel pity for them," Schneider said. "Like one guy I was talking to was saying, 'By God you get as old as I am and you can't do a lot of things you have to take it easy.' I said, 'How old are you? And he says, 'Sixty-seven.' And I said, 'You're just a kid.'"