In loving memory of our father

Norman niemi
"Now I end my measured singing,
Bid my weary tongue keep silence,
Leave my songs to other singers.
Horses have their times of resting
After many hours of labor;
Even sickles will grow weary
When they have been long at reaping;

Waters seek a quiet haven
After running long in rivers;
Fire subsides and sinks in slumber
At the dawning of the morning
Therefore I should end my singing,
As my song is growing weary,
 For the pleasure of the evening,
For the joy of morn arising."

                                                                Excerpt from the epilogue of The Kalevala, the national saga of Finland.


There will be a gathering to share memories and stories at the 
3489 Observatory Place, Cincinnati, Ohio
Sunday December 30, 2012
5:30 to 8pm.


Norman Kelto Niemi

Born in Wakefield, Michigan August 16, 1931, he passed away peacefully November 23rd surrounded by his family in the Upper Peninsula that he so dearly loved. He was the son of Hilda & Nestor Niemi, brother to Harold Niemi, Patsy Tibor and Esti Wacker and husband of Joan (Sundheimer) Niemi. He is survived only  by his older sister Esti Wacker of Wakefield.

He graduated Wakefield High School in 1949. Not surprisingly his elementary grade report cards showed high marks for art while his high school reports revealed “A’s” in physics, shop and technical classes.
 
His first job was working in Milwaukee as a draftsman and technical illustrator at Nash Motor Car (later renamed American Motors) where he met Joan Sundheimer who was attending the Layton School of Art. They were married in her hometown of Wabash, Indiana in 1952, before he was shipped out to Korea.
 
He attained the rank of Sergeant while serving in Korea with the 1169th Engineer Combat Group.   During that time he used his design talents to help create the Freedom Gate at Panmunjom, through which POWs passed to freedom after the armistice. He trucked supplies & equipment to the front lines, often at night, running without lights over primitive mountain roads.  When in his HQ company area he manned a 50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun during air raids.  In March & April of 1953 he spent time on the front lines of the battle at "Old Baldy", one of the major offenses of the war.  He was also involved in bridge reconstruction, tank defense construction, enemy bunker demolition and mine field clearing.

One bright spot was escorting for a day Marilyn Monroe who was in Korea to entertain the troops. He rarely spoke of his time in Korea. In a 2001 email with a student researching the war he wrote that one of his duties was “retrieving the bodies of dead Republic of Korea Army personnel for cremation and return to their home village. (this was not a pleasant task)”. Norman never doubted serving his country, considering it a duty that was shared by his older brother in WWII. He remained deeply patriotic his entire life.

Returning to civilian life he rejoined his wife Joan and new daughter Lorinda and returned to work at American Motors.  He soon moved his family to Wakefield where he attended classes during the day to qualify for college under the G.I. Bill while working nights at Connor's Lumber Mill.  Moving to Cincinnati, he began studying architecture at the University of Cincinnati and working for a local furniture & design company. A son Craig joined the family in 1958. After graduating in 1961 he worked in the design field before being hired to teach Interior Design at UC, retiring as Professor Emeritus in 1992.
 
He taught nearly every course offered in the design program and collaborated with Prof. Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon, in offering lectures focused on our new, high-tech world.  He also served as program chairman for several years. During his tenure he trained architects who went on to design portions of Euro Disney, palatial homes in Abu Dhabi and the U.S.  He was so admired by his students they initiated having him named "Professor of the Year" - a single annual award presented by the Dean of the college.  A dedicated & caring teacher, many of his students kept in touch via letters, emails and visits to Wakefield. He also hosted visiting professors and designers from Finland, creating lifelong friendships.
 
Independently he designed many banks, hotels, restaurants, night clubs and  bars around Greater Cincinnati.  Norman designed and supervised the construction of select private residences including the Lebanon, Ohio home of Neil Armstrong, who at the time was teaching aeronautics at UC.  He was ably assisted by his sister Esti who came on occasional visits to proudly check the work of her “baby brother-the professor”.
 
These designs included diverse projects such as Nordic American Designs, Inc., Cincinnati Dental Services, Monarch Marking Systems of Pitney Bowes, the Mariemont Inn, Zimmer’s Restaurant, a movie theater in Oakley and the Central Trust Bank Company offices. He worked on the design of the media & teleconferencing center for AT&T headquarters in New Jersey and designed the Mobile Sales Vehicles for Black & Decker Tool Company.  He donated his time & expertise developing a Pedestrian Mini-Park & Senior Citizen Facility in Wabash, Indiana, hometown of his wife Joan.  He shared his passion for his Finnish heritage by designing traditional saunas for clients around the country and hosting them at his home and lakeside saunas.
 
In 1966 he won a Popular Mechanics national design challenge creating a 3-wheel suburban vehicle that was ahead of its time in utility and fuel economy. He also received recognition for his craftsmanship in creating a detailed scale model of a Korean freighter using only for reference a photograph he had taken while in the service. He enjoyed creating working ship models, radio controlled airplanes and slot cars, all of which he raced with his kids. His artistic talents ranged from inking temporary tattoos on nieces Carrie & Linda to painting landscapes, local landmarks, Lake Superior waterfronts and ships in oils and watercolors.  He could design & build anything from a simple sauna bench to a high-tech industrial facility.
 
He developed the "Travel / Study" program still in effect at the University while taking students to Scandinavia & Russia.  In 1971 he took a summer off to backpack around Finland visiting the farms and churches of his roots.  He walked from Helsinki all the way to the Arctic Circle - about 500 miles one way. Norman found the farm in Lestijarvi where his father had been born and visited for several days with the current owners.  He also visited the family church and traveled to the town of his mother’s family.  Mostly sleeping in a tent with a reindeer hide for a blanket, he once used a Swedish mailbox as an overnight camp, much to the surprise of the mailman who came to collect the mail the next morning.  He had learned Finnish as a child and enjoyed sharing stories of this travels and teaching with others at the Little Finland Cultural Center near Hurley, Wisconsin.
 
After his retirement he spent increasing longer times in Wakefield, becoming a morning fixture in the north booth of Randall's Bakery, delighting in the conversations and laughter. He was involved in the Wakefield Historical Society, Wakefield Chamber of Commerce, North Country 100 Bike Tour, National Stock Outboard Boat Races and especially enjoyed telling people where to go on his Sundays volunteering at the area Visitors Center.  He looked forward to hosting the annual Fireworks Party at his home and never missed a Fourth of July parade even if he often saw it working the gas grill selling hot dogs to support the Historical Society. He was a staunch supporter of local businesses, especially appreciating the friendship served along with the great food at his favorite haunts in Wakefield and nearby Marenisco, Michigan.  He loved his home town and appreciated the kindness and support found throughout his community.
 
He preferred to celebrate the achievements of others than talk of his own.  It was more fun for him to talk “design how-to” with nephew Dick Matazel, discuss the merits of the canoe “J-stroke” with friends Fred and former student Donna Davis, being spectator (while giving tacit approval) to nephew Jimmy’s latest escapades or hear who among the California relatives won the yearly “Wandering Wilhelmina Award” named in honor of the family matriarch who was ready at a moment’s notice for a daytrip to anywhere exotic in the Northwoods of Michigan and Wisconsin.   He preferred to talk about how the chipmunks would climb up on his shoes to beg for their daily ration of seeds than brag of his own accomplishments.
 
An avid fisherman, he enjoyed many fishing trips in Michigan, Florida & Tennessee with his friends Jerry Stratton & Randy Wakefield, his kids, brother Harold, brother-in-law Al Wacker and nephews Alan Wacker & Jerry Niemi. His time spent at the lake where his father, Harold, Al and he all had cottages were some of the most peaceful & laughter-filled days he had despite spirited "discussions" of cribbage score inaccuracies. His favorite activity was continuing Wilhelmina’s tradition as pilot, navigator and chief instigator of innumerable road trips around Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Kids, sister, nieces & great nieces raced to fill the seats at the first toot of the car horn. He seldom divulged the destination and never asked directions but that only added to the sense of adventure.
 
In his 81 years he treasured above all his family and friends. He will forever be missed by his sister Esti, daughter Lorinda (Lori), son Craig and daughter-in-law Valerie, the rest of his cherished family & all his dear friends, colleagues and students.
 
A gathering was held at Lakeside Memorial Chapel in Wakefield to share stories and memories.  Military rites were held under the auspices of Wakefield American Legion Post 11 and Wakefield Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9084 Honor Guard. A celebration of his life is planned for the spring to bring together local and out-of-state friends and family at his favorite spot in Wakefield.
 
There will be a memorial celebration for Cincinnati area friends, family and colleagues at The Cincinnati Observatory in Mt. Lookout on Sunday December 30th 2012 from 5:30 – 8 pm.
 
To honor his memory please consider a contribution to the Norman Niemi Fund c/o College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, 5470 Aronoff Center, PO Box 210016 , Cincinnati OH 45221-0016; The Cincinnati Observatory Center, 3489 Observatory Place, Cincinnati, OH 45208; or the Wakefield Historical Society, 306 Sunday Lake Street, Wakefield, MI 49968