William Schaafsma’s work sent him to the top of skyscrapers in the city he loved, his relatives said.
A pipefitter by trade, he worked as a foreman and often drove between three or four job sites a day in Chicago. On July 28, that work sent Schaafsma driving through Lawndale on the West Side, where he was killed in a traffic crash.
“I feel like we were robbed. His life was cut too short,” said daughter Chloe Schaafsma, 18.
For one, she said, her dad would never get to see her get married.
Schaafsma, who went by “Billy,” died after a driver allegedly blew a red light at Homan and Ogden avenues and hit three cars, injuring Schaafsma and two others, including a 12-year-old girl, authorities said. Schaafsma, 57, was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The 77-year-old driver who went through the red light was also hospitalized, Chicago police said. He was issued three citations for disregarding a traffic light, failure to reduce speed and reckless driving.
Schaafsma’s wife Amy remembers her husband as a vivacious, family- and community-oriented man who made her feel loved.
The morning he died, Amy Schaafsma recalled, he woke up for work at 5 a.m. in their Lockport home and told her how pretty she looked without makeup.
“He rubbed my cheeks and said, ‘How did I get so lucky?’ He said ‘I love you,’ gave me a great big hug and said, ‘I’ll see you later, babe,’ and that was it.”
Schaafsma trained as an apprentice at Chicago Pipefitters Local 597 on the Near West Side and worked for AMS Mechanical when he died, his family said.
His son Calvin remembers joining his dad at jobs downtown, where Schaafsma supervised the installation of chillers on the top of skyscrapers. The work sometimes involved using a helicopter to lift heavy machinery to high perches.
“We got to do a lot of cool jobs, like Presidential Towers, 35 West Wacker, Brookfield Zoo,” said Calvin, 20.
Schaafsma also had a thirst for life and was always tinkering, according to his family. That curiosity showed in his mechanical savviness. For instance, he once built a pool that would automatically refill itself.
Schaafsma was born in Oak Park in 1963 to parents, Bill and Patricia, who attended rival high schools in Chicago. He followed his dad’s path as a pipefitter.
“He was Billy’s inspiration,” his wife said.
However, Schaafsma strayed from his parents’s habit of vacationing in the same place every year, instead researching new locations and making an upcoming family trip a “huge project,” Amy Schaafsma said.
“He wanted our kids to see things in life,” she said.
Schaafsma was also intensely interested in his hobbies. He fell in love with photography, almost by accident, and would often set up family portraits and plan out family Christmas cards, according to his wife. The obsession began after he won a camera in a golf outing contest.
Schaafsma once served as Boy Scout leader and a deacon at Christ Community Church in Plainfield, his wife said. As a deacon, he led donation drives to help a mom find housing after her house burned down. He once helped raise funeral expenses after a boy died in a crash.
One of his passions was deep sea fishing, which brought him to the Gulf of Mexico where he once caught a red snapper. He was also fond of cooking seafood, his family said. He could do a mean crawfish boil, and enjoyed preparing salmon and crawfish.
Chloe Schaafsma recalled her last day with her dad as he dropped her off at basketball practice.
“When I was leaving, I said ‘Bye,’ and he told me to shoot straight. And I said, ‘I always shoot straight.’ He was a jokester.”
Services were held.