SIKESTON – When it comes to retirement, Jim McNiell said he’s always heard you’ll know when the time is right.
After 33 years, the Missouri State Highway Patrol Lieutenant said that time is right now.
“I just want to enjoy life and slow down a little,” McNiell said. “… I will still be active because that’s just the way Jim McNiell is.”
A retirement luncheon in McNiell’s honor was Tuesday in Sikeston. His official final day with the patrol is May 1.
In June, McNiell and his wife, Wilda, plan to move back to Houston, when he accepted his first assignment wit the patrol in 1978. McNiell’s two grown children, Jeff and Jennifer, and 2-year-old granddaughter live there.
“Even though we’re going to fill his position, we’ll probably never be able to fill Jim’s enthusiasm and dedication to the patrol for his years of service at the Sikeston troop center,” said Capt. George Ridens, commander of Troop E in Poplar Bluff.
Ridens went on to say McNiell has done an exceptional job for Troop E.
“He’s a very caring, religious and dedicated individual at whatever he does whether it’s his highway patrol or personal life,” Ridens said.
McNiell’s career with the patrol began in 1977 as a weight inspector in Steele – a job he held for 13 months until he was accepted into the patrol’s recruit class. His first assignment was October 1978 in Houston, where he I stayed until he was promoted to lieutenant on July 1, 1992. McNiell was assigned to the Sikeston Troop E Service Center, where he has worked as commander since.
“Being a trooper with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, a lot of doors open for you, and I’ve always had the opportunity to be associated and work real close with the community law enforcement agencies and other departments, and through that, you form some valuable friendships,” McNiell said.
While most of his career was positive, McNiell said there was one tragedy that has stuck with him over the years. It was 1980 in Texas County on U.S. 60, and McNiell was assisting a disabled truck driver. While sitting inside his properly marked patrol car waiting for a wrecker, another tractor-trailer hit his car in the rear.
“As a result, I was hospitalized for seven days and taken off the road for two months,” McNiell said. “I realized I was very, very lucky to have survived that and even though I did everything right, I know there’s inherent danger in the job that we do.”
McNiell noted to date, the patrol has a total of 28 officers who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty.
“We’re all committed to the cause of promoting safety and protecting the citizens of the state and that’s the way I looked at it,” McNiell said of his accident. “Because life sometimes can be over very, very short when you least expect it.”
Over the years McNiell said he’s also always enjoyed the opportunity to promote safety during speaking engagements to local civic or school groups.
And he’s been honored for his service in the community, too. In 1995, McNiell was named the Law Enforcement Man of the Year by the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce. Also in 2006, he won the Missouri Association of State Troopers Emergency Relief Society’s Public Service Award. Last year, he won the John Michael Letz Award, which recognizes individuals whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.
In addition, McNiell serves as deacon at Fellowship Baptist Church in Sikeston, which he said he’s thoroughly enjoyed over the years.
As McNiell’s law enforcement career comes to a close, he wanted to praise his employer.
“The highway patrol hires good quality people and being associated with them over 33 years has been a true blessing. I have worked with some of the best people that are around,” McNiell said.
The feeling is mutual.
“Of all the people I’ve ever come across – either within the patrol or out of the patrol – not one of them has ever said anything bad about him,” said Randy Grant, who works for Troop E’s maintenance division. “They’ve all said he’s helped them in some way, which is pretty honorable. There’s no telling how many people’s lives he’s touched over his career.”
Tim Wade, chief motor vehicle inspector for Troop E’s Sikeston service center, agreed.
“The community around here is really going to miss him because he does a lot,” Wade said.
Although McNiell will miss his patrol family and the Sikeston community, he said he looks forward to playing more golf, working on his wife’s “honey-do” list and supporting his family and church.
“It’s been a great ride over the last 33 years,” McNiell concluded. “I’ve been touched by and worked with so many wonderful, wonderful people.”