Jimmy Wirtel, known to some by his name and to many others by his smiling personality, died Monday.
Jimmy was a Wyandotte fixture who often could be seen pushing himself around town in his wheelchair. A regular at , Jimmy ate there nearly daily, pushing himself backward through the restaurant, maneuvering his way around, but being careful not to disturb anyone else.
Jimmy spent the first 25 years of his life in an institution. He was born disabled and has been wheelchair-bound his entire life. Longtime friend Alice Raupp helped him leave the institution and start living independently. Jimmy moved to Wyandotte in 1975. He left briefly, but had been back for the last two decades.
Without any immediate relatives nearby, Jimmy kept in touch with some via the mail. His cousin, Deb Dorney, learned of his death from a story on Wyandotte Patch.
"I am so very saddened to read this news," she said. "I live in DC and if it hadn't been for your article, I guess I would have heard when my letters would be returned to me. ... Thank you so much for honoring my cousin. He loved the people of Wyandotte, Graceland and Nanna's Kitchen so much."
, which co-hosted , posted this tribute of Jimmy on their Facebook page: "His attitude was inspirational. He was a well known friend to anyone that spent any time in Downtown Wyandotte."
Mayor Joseph Peterson said he remembers Jimmy from walking the beat years ago as a . Peterson said Wirtel never had a negative word to say and his smile would light up a room.
"Jimmy had quite the interesting life," he said. "He never depended on anybody. He will be missed."
When word of his death got out Monday afternoon, those who knew Jimmy or knew of Jimmy were quick to share their memories.
"When I waitressed at , he would often come in to eat," Shellie Cade wrote. "He was not only one of the sweetest people ever, he was a Wyandotte icon."
"Jimmy, you were a wonderful teacher and friend," Wyandotte artist Patricia Izzo wrote. "Thank you for the conversations about the books you were reading, thank you for your COURAGE, thank you for the smile you flashed with sincerity. You may have been confined to a wheelchair, but your mind and spirit were free. Just like you are now."
Funeral arrangements are pending. Donations for funeral expenses are being accepted at Nanna's Kitchen. Check back later as more information is released.
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