20 notable Butler County deaths in 2016

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

20 notable Butler County deaths in 2016

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Numerous prominent Butler County leaders and residents died in 2016, including several retired police officials and firefighters.

Among those who served in public safety and died: former Butler County Sheriff Richard “Dick” Holzberger, former Butler County Sheriff Harold Donald “Don” Gabbard, former Middletown Police Deputy Chief Ron VanArsdale; retired Middletown police officers W. Dale Curtis and Virgil “Tub” Sorrell, and retired Middletown firefighter Scott Bruggeman.

Here is a chronological look at some of the people the community lost in 2016:

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W. Dale Curtis , who served as a Middletown police officer for 23 years, died Jan. 2 at Atrium Medical Center. He was 74. He was hired as a police officer in 1975 and retired as a sergeant in 1998.

“He was our protector,” said his wife, Vicky Lynn Curtis. “He was very proud of his work and what he did in the department.”

Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said Curtis was his patrol sergeant for about five years. He said Curtis was “a cop’s cop,” who was quick to compliment his officers, but also served as a father figure.

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Five days later, Virgil "Tub" Sorrell , who worked for the Middletown Division of Police for 29 years, died Jan. 7 at the Woodlands of Middletown. He was 85.

Sorrell worked in the patrol division for most of his 29-year career, Muterspaw said. During his time on patrol, he worked a traffic unit and drove one of the department’s Harley Davidson motorcycles. He had also received a purple heart award for an on-duty injury, Muterspaw said.

After his retirement in 1981, he returned to the police department and worked as the downtown parking control officer for many years.

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Retired Middletown firefighter Scott D. Bruggeman , 45, died Jan. 18 after battling heart disease for almost two years. He had worked with the Middletown Division of Fire for 20 years, retiring in 2015. He also served his country in the Marine Corps. during the Gulf War.

“He was a fighter,” said his mother Ginger Bruggeman. “He was a Marine and he never gave up. He’d be at death’s door one day and one hour later, he’d be telling jokes.”

Bruggeman’s life tragically turned on March 18, 2014, when he was restraining an uncooperative patient in the Atrium Medical Center emergency room, his mother said. He had a heart attack during the incident, and later was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs in the body, which started in his lungs and eventually damaged his heart.

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Former Butler County Sheriff Richard "Dick" Holzberger died Jan. 24 after suffering a massive stroke. On Dec. 30, 2015, Holzberger, 70, closed his business on High Street after 17 years in business.

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones described Holzberger as “one of the kindest guys I ever met.”

“He’d give the shirt off his back to you. It didn’t matter if you were born wealthy, you were a wealthy businessman, or if you were just someone living on the street or sleeping under a bridge — he treated everybody the same,” said Jones, who spoke with his predecessor almost weekly.

The lifelong Hamilton resident also served as a Hamilton police officer and a member of the city council.

PHOTOS: Dick Holzberger Through the Years

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Richard "Dick" Slagle , who led the Middletown Chamber of Commerce and served as an executive at Armco Steel, died Feb. 2 at Berkeley Square in Hamilton. He was 90.

He began his career at the Middletown Chamber of Commerce in 1959, worked there for 10 years, then joined Armco, where he worked until he retired in 1985.

MORE: Middletown’s Slagle remembered for doing things his way

“Dick Slagle was a giant of a man whose impact on the Middletown region will be evident for generations to come,” said former House Speaker John Boehner, a close friend of Slagle’s. “His spirit was as strong as the wood of the gavel he fashioned for me as I prepared to become Speaker. That gavel was by my side through my speakership as a source of confidence and strength — the gift of a teacher, a mentor, and a true friend. He was all of those things to me, and to many others who were blessed to know him during his long and remarkable life.”

The city “lost a great friend and advocate,” said Rick Pearce, president of the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton. “His influence on the community and those he came in contact with will be felt for years to come.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Slagle a true visionary, community leader

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Ron Ely , who helped the Middletown Community Foundation spin off from the Middletown United Way by spearheading a fundraising campaign 30 years ago, died Feb. 22 in Michigan.

The foundation started in 1976 as a component of Middletown United Way, but it remained dormant for about 10 years, said T. Duane Gordon, executive director of the MCF. In the mid-1980s, Ely chaired a committee at United Way that looked at the feasibility of spinning off the foundation into a stand-alone entity.

Their conclusion was it was feasible, so Ely and Bill Verity headed up the fundraising committee that secured Elliot Levey’s $1 million challenge gift, Miriam G. Knoll’s $2 million matching gift, and an additional $3.3 million in pledges over a 30-week period in 1986, Gordon said.

When the foundation separated from the United Way in 1986, Ely stepped up in the volunteer role of unpaid executive director for more than two years from 1987 until Norm Hayes was hired in 1989. He served as president of the Board of Trustees from 1986 through 1989. He rotated off the board in 1993, becoming one of the three trustees emeritus in 1994 along with Elliott Levey and Bill Verity.

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Kyler Bradley , 10, a fifth-grader at Fairfield Intermediate School who was diagnosed with the inoperable brain cancer diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, died April 12.

The day of his death, more than 100 people gathered outside his home for a prayer vigil. Later, Pastor Drew Wilkerson from BridgeWater Church said Kyler’s quality of life was “slipping” so his parents, Anthony and Rebecca, removed his ventilator. He died a few hours later.

Throughout the prayer vigil, many of those in attendance wore “Kyler Strong” T-shirts and volunteers passed out “Kyler Strong” wristbands. There were two signs in the home’s windows that read: “Kyler Our Hero.”

Thousands of people around the region came Kyler's funeral, and his fight made him an inspiration to many more.

Kyler had two wishes in life, to be famous and bring people together because he loved life and hardly ever met a stranger.

Both happened.

MORE: For parents, hope then memories all that remain after DIPG

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Richard "Dick" Mort , a longtime community volunteer, died April 15. He was 78.

It was his goal to make where he lived prosper, his friends said.

“That just happened to be Middletown,” said Sue Wittman, president of the Art Central Foundation. “He made us the best place possible.”

Judy Bober, assistant director at Cincinnati State Middletown, said Mort “put his love and life into our town.”

Mort used his financial background to assist numerous organizations: Dayton Jaycees, All American Weekend, U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships, Art Central Foundation, Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival and Light Up Middletown.

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Former Butler County Sheriff Harold Donald "Don" Gabbard died May 31. He was 84.

Gabbard served three terms as sheriff, from 1993 to 2005. Before being elected sheriff he worked 28 years for Hamilton’s police department, where he had retired as a detective.

In 2012, Gabbard donated $25,000 left over from his political contributions to Miami University Hamilton and the O’Tucks organization, which promotes the region’s awareness of its Appalachian heritage.

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Longtime political adviser J. Knight Goodman died July 9 at Pristine Senior Living in Middletown. He was 98.

Besides his public relations firm, Goodman served as corporate director of public relations and advertising for Aeronca Inc., and editor of The Middletown Journal.

He served as the youngest president of the Middletown Jaycees and later as youngest vice president of Ohio Jaycees; member and first president of the executive committee of the Middletown Area United Way; member and vice-president of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce; and chairman of Middletown Statehouse Conference on Education and chairman of the cities Ohio Project/School Finance.

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Jennifer "Jenny" Nickell , a 1978 Middletown High School graduate who earned four Emmys for her auto racing coverage, died July 19 in Toronto producing an IndyCar race as part of the NBCSN-TV broadcast team. Nickell, 56, was scheduled to produce weightlifting at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“She was at the top of her game,” said her sister, Julie Nickell, 69.

Nickell said her sister was “a trailblazer” for women interested in producing TV sports. She took great pride in mentoring women, her sister said.

“She always kept an eye open for females,” her sister said. “That was something she was very, very proud of. She opened a lot of doors.”

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Hamilton's Phillip Poppel , who was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic and liver cancer early this summer, died Aug. 8 at his home, surrounded by his family. He was 53.

“We all have broken hearts right now that we lost the greatest brother ever,” said his sister Pam Thompson. “He was loved deeply and our best friend. He is not only going to be missed by his loving family, he had so many friends, co-workers, and acquaintances throughout the city of Hamilton that will also miss him greatly.”

After Poppel was diagnosed, Butler County Lumber, where he worked for 27 years, hosted a party in his honor. Hamilton firefighters drove a fire truck to the party, and Poppel and his five siblings posed for pictures.

He attended Hamilton City Schools and graduated from Lakota High School in 1983. Since 1989, he had worked at Butler County Lumber, a third-generation family business that was founded in 1912.

MORE: Despite dire diagnosis, Hamilton man keeps smiling

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One of the driving forces behind a church-based homeless shelter, Roy Ickes , died Sept. 11. He was 87.

“I never knew anyone better,” said Bill Fugate, a friend and fellow coordinator at Serving Homeless Alternative Lodging Of Middletown (SHALOM). “He always wanted to be perfect. He wasn’t, of course, but he was as close to perfect as anyone.”

In 2002, Roy and Pat Ickes sat in the audience as a group of diverse Middletown ministers discussed the city’s homeless dilemma. It was feared at the time that Hope House, the city’s only homeless shelter, would close, and the clergy and Jeff Diver, executive director of SELF, were concerned about the well-being of the homeless.

Roy and Pat Ickes, members of First United Methodist Church, one of the forerunners in the homeless movement, signed up and they were there ever since the program housed its first homeless person on Oct. 6, 2002.

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Thomas Beckett Rentschler took on voluminous and vast roles in his 84 years of life.

Navy veteran, respected member of the banking community, philanthropist, author, antique firearms collector and historian were just some of the roles he took on. He was also a two-term Ohio House of Representative member. He died Oct. 25.

One of his greatest passions was his hometown, being the executive director of the Hamilton Bicentennial Commission, which eventually launched the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. He was a president of the Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton and helped to raise funds for the club’s East Avenue, and later the Grand Boulevard, facilities.

He was also the fourth Rentschler to serve on the board of the Miami Conservancy District since its inception in 1913.

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Ron VanArsdale , a longtime Middletown Division of Police officer and retired deputy chief, died Nov. 7 from complications from open heart surgery.

He had a long and varied career with the city, serving for 30 years in the police department, as a probation officer, director of license intervention program for Middletown Municipal Court and leading the Neighborhood Watch program for the Safety Council of Southwestern Ohio.

One of VanArsdale’s three children, David, said his father is the reason he went into police work. He retired as police chief and serves as the city’s public safety director.

“I saw it was a good job,” VanArsdale said of law enforcement. “He showed me that.”

Then he paused and added: “He was my hero.”

Middletown Municipal Court Judge Mark Wall said because of VanArsdale’s outgoing personality he “had a way with people” regardless of the circumstances.

He called VanArsdale “a real asset” during his public service to Middletown residents.

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Butler County Common Pleas Judge Craig D. Hedric died Nov. 13. He was 55.

Hedric was elected Judge of the Court of Common Pleas General Division in November 2006 and began serving on the bench on Jan. 3, 2007. Born and raised in Oxford, Hedric was a Talawanda High School and Miami University graduate.

In 1986, Hedric graduated from the University Of Toledo College Of Law and went into private practice in Hamilton. In January 2001, he became an assistant Butler County prosecuting attorney and remained in that position until being elected judge.

MORE: Hundreds mourn Butler County judge

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Paul D. Galeese , longtime manager of the former Manchester Inn and a civic leader, died Dec. 1. He was 98.

Galeese, a World War II veteran, had the distinction of being the third baby born at Middletown Hospital on May 16, 1918.

He graduated from Middletown High School in 1936 and continued his studies at the University of Cincinnati, Capital University, and Cornell University. He married Sara, his high school sweetheart, on June 14, 1941 and they were married for 73 years until her death last year.

In 1953, he became assistant manager of the Armco owned landmark Manchester Hotel and general manager the following year. He held that position until he retired in 1981.

He served Middletown and local groups in many volunteer capacities. He was a member of the Rotary Club, the American Legion, Chamber of Commerce, president and director of Middletown Enterprises Inc. and president of the Middletown Cotillion.

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William "Bill" Wilch , one of Middletown's most decorated World War II veterans, died Dec. 5 at Hospice Care of Butler & Warren Counties. He was 92.

He served as a rifleman in the Army’s 29th Infantry Division. He fought in the Invasion of Normandy by Allied forces in 1944 and received the Purple Heart Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal, the highest honor that France can bestow upon a person.

MORE: War movie started 18-year friendship between reporter, WWII veteran

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Jerome Kearns , a member of the Fairfield Board of Education and assistant director of Butler County Job and Family Services died Dec. 20. He was 50.

Kearns, who was a resident of Fairfield Twp., had served on the Fairfield school board since 2008 and was its vice president.

“Jerome cared deeply about our students and community, and our schools and community are better as a result of his service,” said Fairfield City Schools Superintendent Billy Smith.

In addition to serving on the Fairfield school board, Kearns was employed as the assistant director of Butler County Job and Family Services.

His community involvement included being a member of the Fairfield Township Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association and a board member of Shared Harvest Foodbank. He was also a member of Fairfield Kiwanis and board member of Workforce One Investment Board of Southwest Ohio.

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YWCA Hamilton Executive Director Sherrie Bluester died Dec. 26. She was 50.

Bluester led the YWCA for more than six years. The YWCA Hamilton serves all of Butler County and operates a domestic violence shelter, a 24-hour crisis hotline and provides housing assistance for women in need due to homelessness, mental illness or addiction issues. Under Bluester’s leadership, the YWCA was involved in many local initiatives to support women, including helping to lower the county infant mortality rate.

“Her passion was helping the underprivileged in our community,” Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said.