Don Witten poses by an Ohio City Fire Truck (DHI Media/Jim Langham)
Don Witten poses by an Ohio City Fire Truck (DHI Media/Jim Langham)

OHIO CITY – Don Witten passed retirement age several years ago but he continues to give of himself for his cherished home community, Ohio City. Combined, he has given 92 years of service to the southern Van Wert County community, 45 years as a fireman and 47 years (so far) working for the local township.

“When I was young, Basil Agler was the fire chief and he had a filling station uptown,” said Witten. “I worked at the station. Every time the monitor went off, he and I took off. I would make fire runs and squad runs.

“I always like helping people out when I can,” continued Witten. “I’ve worked at the cemetery for 47 years. I can take off for a fire anytime the monitor goes off. This is my job. I’ve worked for Liberty Township. We have three cemeteries that we take care of and we unplug drains.”

Witten estimated that he has dug an average of 45 to 50 graves a year during that period of time, including the graves on nearly three of the mounds in the main cemetery.

Witten said he has been in a position where he has been forced to dig graves in all kinds of weather, including heavy rain, dry weather, blizzards and other types of adverse conditions. He noted that there was a time when he could dig an entire grave by hand in close to five hours. For many years, he also plowed snow (45 miles) for the township.

In addition, he has spent his agricultural time as a grain farmer.

Witten, a 1961 graduate of Ohio City Liberty Schools, said that he continues to assist with the fire department and township work. He spends much of his time working for fire chief Brandon Bowen, who also works for the township.

“I love to help the community; that’s mainly the reason why I stay on,” said Witten.

Concerning the fire department, Witten said, “There are times when we are short on manpower. I’m always close here. I enjoy working with all of the guys in the department.

“When I took my training in 1981, we had a book we had to read with instructions,” said Witten. “Then they sat up ladders on Main Street and we had to climb up and down them.

“Now there is some kind of training every month,” continued Witten. “There’s a lot more work than there used to be, which is a good deal. They’ve made a lot of improvement in my time.”

He recalled when firemen used to stand on the outside of structures and fight fires. Now they are taught to go in and fight the fire on the inside.

“I like it that the chief is working to bring in young guys,” added Witten. “We need their help and their strength.”