Jimmy Nisser in a photograph taken on Sunday at Wooddale Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park.

Jeff Wheeler, Dml - Star Tribune Star Tribune

Hit-and-run bike victim worked at private club for 45 years

  • September 11, 2008 - 11:17 PM

Jimmy Nisser flashes a mile-wide grin in what was likely the last photo taken of him before his death.

The photo shows him sitting outside the sanctuary before church last Sunday, an offering envelope protruding from his shirt pocket, his fingers -- cuticles clearly lined with dirt -- clutching a plastic foam coffee cup.

Nisser's friends at Wooddale Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park shook their heads and smiled sadly as they looked at the picture. Nisser, riding his bicycle, was struck and killed before dawn by a hit-and-run driver on a road near Lake Calhoun. He was more than just an innocent victim. He was Jimmy, their friend.

He was the guy who brought his own meat thermometers to ensure the Dome Dogs were fully cooked when he volunteered for the church at Twins games.

Despite being 65 and overcoming cerebral palsy, he was the neighbor who still took pleasure in shoveling the driveway for "the elderly couple next door," as he called them. He was the volunteer who watered the trees and re-sanded window frames at the church without being asked. He wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty.

Though doctors said it would be a miracle if he could walk as a boy, he grew into a man who took great pleasure in riding his fleet of Raleigh bicycles, even leaving his newest one in the garage Thursday morning in favor of his "rain bike," his sister said.

Now, from family members to parishioners at his small church to the power players at the Minikahda Club, a private golf club in Minneapolis where he worked as a kitchen steward, Nisser is being mourned while police investigate who is responsible for striking him with their vehicle and leaving his body in the street.

"He just brought so much joy to everyone. He doesn't have a clue about how many people he touched, just being a solely good guy," fellow church member Jean Olson said. "He just had a twinkle in his eye that you don't forget."

Nisser, a 45-year employee, was just moments away from arriving at the club from his nearby St. Louis Park home when a vehicle struck him shortly after 4:15 a.m. on eastbound Excelsior Boulevard near W. 32nd Street, said club manager Jim Jennings.

Police confirmed that Nisser was wearing a helmet when he was struck by a tan vehicle, which police suspect has right-front damage.

Paint chips were collected at the scene and sent to an FBI lab for analysis, which should be able to tell police the make, model and year of the vehicle, said police Sgt. Bill Palmer.

His minister, the Rev. Tim Rauk, said Nisser didn't drive because of the cerebral palsy. It never kept him from being the second person to church without fail every Sunday.

"I was always the first one here on Sundays, and Jimmy would be the second. He'd make the coffee," he said.

He biked to work during the warmer months and otherwise walked in the winter, Jennings said.

"It's sick for somebody to just drive away. ... Who knows what [the driver] is thinking. Not much character, that's for sure," Jennings said.

Nisser lived with his mother in the 3700 block of Kipling Avenue until she died in 1996, said his sister, Carol Hays of Denver.

Hays and her husband, Dick, were staying with Nisser at the time the accident happened. The three watched the Twins game before Nisser turned in early for work. Carol Hays said she always knew her brother was an expert rider, but worried just the same. "He was very careful, but I'd always had nightmares over the years," she said. "I was thinking one day I was going to get a call. Instead it was a knock at the door."

The Hays glanced around the home Nisser once shared with his mother, now decorated to his liking with Twins bobblehead dolls, model cars, and a neatly-stacked shelf of VHS tapes.

Carol Hays squeezed a handkerchief and wondered what her family would do without her brother who had more than a heart of gold.

"Gold, silver, sterling, everything rolled into one," she said. "It'll be a great loss to everyone who knew him."

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Sgt. Bruce Folkens at 612-673-3410 or Sgt. Chris Karakostas at 612-673-3400.

Rauk said "it's so obvious" that the driver should come forward.

"It's the right thing to do," the minister said. "Jimmy always did the right thing."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921 Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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