From laundry to engineering, Lake Forest hospital's Niskanen rubs elbows with the best

Dan Niskanen worked his way of up from the laundry department to systems engineer, spending about 50 years at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.

The Gurnee resident was recently honored for his long employment and his retirement from full-time work after serving under four hospital presidents, meeting numerous celebrities and ensuring the hospital equipment ran smoothly.

"I loved my job and the people are so nice there," said Niskanen, 65. "They were like a family to me."

At 15, Niskanen started working at the hospital earning $1.07 an hour as a part timer. His father worked at the hospital at that time, and in later years, so did his brother Karl, who still works in the engineering department.

After high school graduation, Dan Niskanen earned a state power engineering license and joined the engineering team full time. He now holds three engineering-related licenses and numerous certifications.

His expertise was in monitoring and maintaining the building automation and medical gas systems, fire alarm and sprinkler systems, and the nurse paging system.

But it wasn't all lines and systems. Niskanen enjoyed meeting actors Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton when they came to the hospital in 1980 to film, "Ordinary People." He made sure everything ran smoothly for them. The actors enjoyed him and his work so much, the vice president of Universal Studios invited Niskanen to have lunch with them.

"I sat between Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton and what an honor that was," Niskanen said. "I told her I loved my job and she said 'That is so nice.' And Timothy Hutton was more talkative. I loved it."

In later years, he often escorted players for the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears, whenever they visited patients. Even former President George Bush Sr. stopped in.

"The week before (Bush's arrival) the Secret Service interviewed me because I knew the building inside out," he said. "So they did a background check on me and gave me a special lapel pin to wear. I handled their communication system, but couldn't talk about it until he left."

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While celebrity visits were fun, he enjoyed getting to know his co-workers better. Now that 50 years have passed and he officially retired, he isn't stopping. He will work part time at the hospital while he fulfills some things on his bucket list, he said.

He loves photography, skiing, riding the rapids, tennis and activities at church. His dream also includes a "Top Gun" movie experience where he would ride behind a pilot in a real F-14 fighter jet.

"I want to do that by the end of the summer," he said.

He also wants to travel, perhaps to Las Vegas, Hawaii and Europe.

"I cannot see myself settling in front of the TV," he said.

<h3 class="briefHead">FastTracks</h3>

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Dan Niskanen, who retired from full-time work as a systems engineer at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, left, is congratulated by Thomas J. McAfee, hospital president. COURTESY OF NORTHWESTERN MEDICINE LAKE FOREST HOSPITAL
Erica Wiegel of Elk Grove Village owns and operates Aro Metal Stamping Inc. in Roselle. COURTESY OF ARO METAL STAMPING INC.
Grant Johnson
Brandon Stahl
Frances Simons
David L. Currotto
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