Although Brian D. Knittle’s sports allegiances were once tethered to the University of Michigan, he found himself firmly bound to the archrival Buckeyes after moving to Ohio in 2003.
A Chicago area native and big-time sports fan, Mr. Knittle became a construction manager for the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and dove right into OSU culture.
“He became a full-fledged Buckeye,” said his brother, Scott Knittle. “It was all Ohio State, all the time.”
Last September, Mr. Knittle arranged a private tour of the Ohio State football stadium for a busload of family and friends. After an inside peek at “The Horseshoe” Â– as the stadium has been dubbed – Mr. Knittle got to run around the turf and ended up kicking a football clear through the posts for a successful field goal.
“He was so excited. He was in his glory,” said one of his sisters, Cindi Cloutier.
A frequent fan at football and basketball games, Mr. Knittle traveled to watch the Buckeyes play in a recent college football championship and had been hoping to see OSU in the NCAA basketball tournament in New Orleans.
However, on March 27, Mr. Knittle got into a car accident in Ohio and died from injuries suffered in the crash. He was 38.
Mr. Knittle was an athlete himself. The former offensive lineman at Thornwood High School in South Holland went on to play flag football, competing in tournaments all over the country. In 1999, his team won the national championship and Mr. Knittle was named Most Valuable Defensive Player.
On the softball field, Mr. Knittle was known as the slugger. He played in a men’s league with the local park district and also participated in a golf league at OSU.
For several years, Mr. Knittle was a track and field coach for the Special Olympics of Delaware County in Ohio, and served as vice president and president of the board.
“When he was coaching, it just seemed like we were always having fun and laughing,” said Sharon Taylor, local coordinator for Special Olympics. “The athletes always loved him.”
By handing out a special game ball each week, Mr. Knittle motivated them to work hard and try their best.
“He really made a great game out of it,” said one of his athletes, Wally Berger. “He was a great coach.”
Mr. Knittle hailed from the south suburbs of Chicago. He was the youngest of four, born June 4, 1973, in Harvey. Growing up in Riverdale and South Holland, Mr. Knittle easily made friends with the neighborhood kids, often rode his bike around town and occasionally got into mischief with his big brother, such as the time the two accidently drove the family car through the garage door.
After graduating high school, Mr. Knittle worked in construction for several years building houses and then eventually switched to the management side of the industry.
He also served from 1996 to 1999 as a firefighter for the South Holland Fire Department.
“For the time he was here, he gave it his all,” said Brian Kolosh, South Holland’s deputy fire chief. “He was very outgoing, and he liked helping people.”
During that time, Mr. Knittle also had a job at HOH Engineers, the firm where his father, a former South Holland village trustee, also worked. There Mr. Knittle met his future wife, Jen, and after dating for more than 10 years, the two got married in Las Vegas on March 13, 2011.
The couple most recently lived in Delaware, Ohio, where Mr. Knittle put his fine handyman skills to use for all kinds of home improvement projects, said his wife.
At the Wexner Medical Center, Mr. Knittle recently contributed to the opening of a new ambulatory facility. He was also involved in the hospital’s $1.1 billion expansion project.
“Brian always had a smile or a story, and was always up for a challenge,” said his manager, Brian Zimmer. “He was widely known to his peers and customers for his enthusiasm.”
Mr. Knittle also is survived by his parents, Frank and Gini; sister Vicki Camp, and several nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be Friday from 1-4 p.m. at Glenwoodie Golf Club in Glenwood.