Francis J. “Hack” Nierengarten, 101
Sept. 2, 1919-Dec. 3, 2020
Francis Joseph Nierengarten died peacefully after a long, good life on Dec. 3, 2020. Due to the Covid pandemic, a private burial was held on Saturday, Dec. 5. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.
Nierengarten was born Sept. 2, 1919 in St. Joseph, to John and Mary (Euteneuer) Nierengarten. He attended St. Joseph Grade School, St. John’s Prep School and St. John’s University. As a child of the Depression, he delighted in the simple pleasures of life. He rambled around the surrounding woods, hunting squirrel and rabbits, and fished local lakes. During the summer, he and his buddies played barefoot in a blistering black dirt baseball diamond on the eastern edge of town, on a site where he eventually built his future family’s home. It was during this time he adopted the nickname of “Hack,” in homage to his favorite baseball player, Hack Wilson, a famous slugger for the Chicago Cubs.
As a young man, Nierengarten was a local baseball celebrity as he became a pitching legend for the St. Joe Saints. He was picked “top pitcher in the conference” at St. John’s in 1941. In Jan. 1942, he left college and joined the Army Air Force. Assigned to the 8th Air Force, he was stationed in London during the blitz. Baseball was important to the war effort, providing entertainment for the troops, building relationships with the locals and raising funds for the hospitals. Among other duties, he was soon drafted into one of the military teams. His first time on the mound he pitched a perfect game and hit for the cycle as reported in the Stars & Stripes.
Upon returning from the war in 1944, Nierengarten took up his career in bricklaying and masonry, a trade he learned from his father. Buildings all around the region have his artistic touch, including St. Ben’s, St. John’s and his own home. His final work, in retirement, is the fieldstone monument in the St. Joseph churchyard.
In 1948, Nierengarten married Ann T. Galama, whom he met, of course, at a St. Joe baseball game. They were married 54 years and raised five children. About a year after Nierengarten retired, Ann had a stroke and he became her devoted caregiver for the remainder of her life, an amazing 18 years. In addition to cooking, Nierengarten put his bricklaying skills to work to help Ann with her quilt-making. No quilt pieces were ever cut with such precision.
Nierengarten enjoyed golfing, cribbage and a particular German card game called Skat that he played since he was a child. Even at 99 years of age, he could still play a Null Ouvert so smoothly it would leave his opponents with mouths agape.
Survivors include the following: his four children: Thomas L. (Marlana), Donald P. (Barbara), Mark V., and Susan Nierengarten Cohen (Neil); grandchildren: Brett A.(Brie), Eric M. (Kristin), Mary L. Lee (David), Peter M., and McKenna L.; great grandchildren: Bailey, Brooklyn, Harris and Vincent; sisters-in-law: Jean Wise Nierengarten, Louella Galama, Imelda Galama; and many nieces, nephews and godchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents; wife; infant son John Francis “Jackie,” brothers and sisters: Albert, Rose Reber (George), Lorraine Jost (Matthias), Leo, Lawrence (KIA WWII-married to Loretta Meyer), Alvina, Daniel, Donald (infant twin of Daniel); brothers and sisters-in-law: Herbert Galama, Teddy and Joe Sis, Leona and William Meinz, Louise and Leo Otremba, Marie and Jerry Schaefer, and John and Richard Galama.