"Toot" Neidlinger was North Liberty's most colorful character. He'd been part of the fabric of the town for more than 75 years, until the gray and rainy Thursday morning when he was killed. Toot was struck by a mini van as he walked down Osborne Road into town.
“He'd been told it was dangerous with the big trucks,” recalls Audrey Castle, a good friend. “He needed to get over, but he did what he did. I told him needed a brighter jacket, but he was stubborn, very stubborn. It was hard to change his ways. You could give him a brand new jacket and he wouldn't wear it.”
Neidlinger once worked for the railroad, that's how he earned the nickname "Toot".
He lived alone in a condemned house with no television, no electricity, and no running water. Everyday he walked the nearly two miles into town to the “Lucky Mart Citgo”. He ate his meals there, swept the parking lot, and would people watch from his perch at the gas pumps or from the bench in front of the "Yum Yum" Shop.
Beneath that rugged and sometimes cynical surface people say "Toot" had a good heart. “I asked him what he's doing for Christmas and he says it's just another day,” says North Liberty resident Janet Lipinski. “He said nobody cares anyway and I said you're wrong Toot! A lot of people care about you and you should know that by now.”
Friends set up a memorial at the site where toot was killed. “He didn't want any service or any visitation. That was his character,” explains funeral home director Audine Manuel. “Toot is being cremated. The VFW and American Legion may hold a celebration of life ceremony for him sometime in the future, because he was a veteran.”
"Toot" served in the army during the Korean War. Although he never talked about his life, the folks in this town say he taught them something, “Just by the way somebody can be on the outside, doesn't necessarily mean they're that way on the inside,” Audrey Castle says.
76-year-old Eugene Neidlinger taught the town of North Liberty about compassion and that's a lesson they'll remember long after he's gone.