October 2, 2022

Former Burton Mayor Jane L. Nimcheski is shown in this photo provided by her family.
BURTON, MI — Jane L. Nimcheski’s claim to local fame was her election as the first female mayor of Burton, but friends and family say she cared most about community service — something that made her stand out in a city known for its rough-and-tumble politics.
Nimcheski, 79, died Wednesday, Sept. 14, in Ann Arbor, nearly 40 years after she was first sworn into office as mayor, just 11 years after Burton transitioned from a township to a city.
A former nurse at Flint’s St. Joseph Hospital and Flint Osteopathic Hospital, Nimcheski was also known for her work with local Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts, as a member of the Burton Women’s Fire Auxiliary, and as the religious education coordinator and a school board member at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.
After an election defeat, she retired from politics, volunteering at the Genesee County Free Medical Clinic and advocating for children as a guardian ad litem.
“She wasn’t a politician. She was more of a community servant,” her daughter Michelle Welch-Kohn said Tuesday, Sept. 20. “I think it was from being brought up in her faith … She didn’t quote Bible verses — it was just how she led her life.”
Nimcheski served as mayor from 1983 until 1991 after first having been elected to the City Council in 1979.
As mayor, she helped bring public water to Burton, supporting the replacement of an aging community well system that served only part of the city, Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright said.
“She knew it would jeopardize her position as mayor” because of higher taxes and the fear that residents with wells would be forced to connect to the water system, Wright said, but “she did what she thought was right for all the people … and it improved water quality for people (and allowed for business growth). That’s how selfless she was.”
Nimcheski helped pave the way in Burton politics for other women, including Paula Zelenko, who served as a state representative for the area and as mayor 20 years after her predecessor left office.
“I think it’s always harder for a woman in our society … and she did it with a kind heart,” Zelenko said. “I could call her for opinions and she made no bones about calling me to tell me what she thought.”
Welch-Kohn said her father, Warren, a former volunteer firefighter for the city, recalled a story at Nimcheski’s funeral Tuesday about his wife’s dealings with city residents who would come to her, facing water shut-offs because they were behind on their bills.
“My mom, out of her personal checkbook, would pay out of our family money for their water to be turned back on,” she said. “That tells you something … She was genuine and kind and loyal. If she told you she was going to do something, she did it.”
In 1996, Nimcheski told The Flint Journal that before deciding to run for public office for the first time, she followed her lifelong habit of seeking divine guidance on the day before the filing deadline to run for City Council.
Until then, she had been a wife and mother whose main activities outside the home revolved around Holy Rosary and its school in Genesee Township and she had all but decided it was out of the question.
Nimcheski, who attended Sacred Heart School in Birch Run, said she recalled words she had heard as a student there.
“I remember one (person) in particular, Sister Jeanette…” Nimcheski said then. “I was in the sixth or seventh grade. Any time I wanted to do something, I remember her saying to me: ‘You can do anything or be anything you want to be as long as you have your faith in God.’”
Decades after having made the decision to run for office, Welch-Kohn said she still couldn’t “go anywhere without someone saying, I know your mom.”
“She always wanted to fight for the underdog,” Welch-Kohn said. “She was very selfless and she helped a lot of people.”
Read more at The Flint Journal:
Genesee County on verge of approving work-from-home plan for some employees
Jury awards $100K to health worker who said Flint blood lead data was falsified
State orders company that caused Flint River spill to end use of waste transport tunnels
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