Mayor Pat Moeller said Bernard “Jack” Kirsch taught him to laugh after a bad round of golf, but the greatest lessons he learned from the former city manager was about being a true public servant.
Kirsch, an East Hamilton native, spent decades bettering the city as the city’s director of public works or leading the administration as the city manager, and one of his greatest accomplishments was the High Street underpass that has borne his name for the past two decades.
Kirsch died Monday morning. He was 97.
“He’s truly one of the best men I ever met,” said Moeller. “He taught me so much about the city. He made me a much better council member just by talking to me about things and sharing his wisdom.”
Kirsch was born on March 5, 1926, and married his wife, Edith, on Oct. 4, 1952. Together they had seven children: Theresa, Joseph, Mary, Bob, John, Jane, and Paul (Joseph and Paul died when they were still infants). Edith Kirsch passed in 1998.
Before serving Butler County and then the city of Hamilton, Kirsch served the country, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII as an 18-year-old. He joined the city in 1958 as the director of Public Works, leaving as Butler County’s chief deputy engineer, and then served as city manager from 1975 to 1983.
“It was his focus and his championing that gave us the underpass in downtown Hamilton,” said Moeller. “People probably don’t know what he truly, truly went through to get that for our citizens.”
Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith, who often met with Kirsch, said while he holds that title now, Kirsch will always be Hamilton’s city manager.
“He had too many accomplishments to list during his long tenure with the city, but his vision and execution on the High Street underpass changed Hamilton for the better,” he said. “He was the embodiment of a civic leader.”
Because of the underpass, it’s the only east-west route through Hamilton that’s unobstructed by any at-grade train crossings. Moeller said the city would be very different without that underpass, adding that “he just persisted, persisted and persisted, and he spent a lot of time visiting the railroad folks to get it done.”
But the underpass isn’t the only historic accomplishment Kirsch gave the city. They are much broader as he was also a key player in the construction of the Greenup Hydroelectric Plant, Columbia Bridge, Bypass Ohio 4, and the Butler County Regional Highway.
Kirsch wouldn’t take credit for many of the projects he led, as he rather put the limelight on others who worked on those efforts, said Hamilton Director of Neighborhoods Brandon Saurber, whose grandfather and Jack were first cousins. But those projects lived with him long after he left the city.
“He remembered to the inch the details of the underpass’s construction,” said Saurber, who visited Kirsch a few months ago. “It was amazing to me that in casual conversation, he’s able to recall the most intimate details of some of these projects that he was a part of.”
“He was so incredibly humble for all of the things that he accomplished. He would never, ever step out in front and claim something,” he said. “All the accolades he has received over the years have been earned from other people singing the man’s praises because he was so incredibly humble and such a kind guy.”
John Kirsch said his father, a member of the Greatest Generation, said his volunteerism was just as vast and wide as his professional contributions, and while he was proud of all of his contributions, he was equally proud of his humble beginnings, volunteer work which was as vast as his professional contributions, and the spectrum of friends ― personally and professionally ― he made over his lifetime.
“Your background or your income level were completely irrelevant to him. Those kinds of things didn’t matter,” John Kirsch said. “It was about what you were about as a person.”
Jack Kirsch was not only a caregiver to his mother and wife, but his son also said he was a caregiver to others.
Everything Jack Kirsch had done in his life was because of his integrity, his son said. Whether it was his word, which John said was “golden,” or his work ethic, which multiple people have said was “legendary,” Jack Kirsch was truly a gentleman.
REMEMBERING JACK KIRSCH
The city of Hamilton will fly flags at half-staff in honor of Bernard “Jack” Kirsch because of his extensive public service to the city, county, and nation.
A visitation is set for 5 p.m. on Thursday at Weigel Funeral Home, 980 NW Washington Blvd., Hamilton.
A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Peter in Chains at the corner of Liberty and Ridgelawn avenues.