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Nursing home fire victims remembered

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:01 PM

FITCHVILLE More than 100 people gathered Friday afternoon at the roadside park in Fitchville to dedicate the historical marker commemorating the Golden Age Nursing Home fire of Nov. 23, 1963.

Those in attendance included men who fought the fire, relatives of victims and others who remembered what one speaker called "the terrible tragedy" in which 63 lives were lost.

The marker was funded through a grant from the Ohio Historical Society that was attained through the efforts of Tom Neel and other members of the New London Area Historical Society.

Neel introduced several speakers, starting with Ruth Earl, a member of the North Fairfield Historical Society who came up with the idea for the marker.

"It was a tragedy that should not have happened and more tragic because it has been forgotten," Earl said.

Several speakers noted the fire occurred early in the morning the day after President John F. Kennedy was shot, and what ordinarily would have made headlines around the world was overshadowed by his death.

Dr. Earl McLoney, the Huron County Assistant Coroner in 1963, said although the victims have been forgotten by many, "They did not die in vain," because of the state and federal legislation that followed making nursing homes safer.

"This type of tragedy should never happen again," McLoney added.

Several of the speakers praised the firefighters, law enforcement personnel and others who helped out during the disaster. Fitchville Township Trustee Joe Merillees said the undertakers, police, firemen and other volunteers, "all pulled together."

Dick Eastman, one of the funeral directors who was involved in the aftermath of the fire, said, "Everyone did an excellent job," and local historian Harold Kirkpatrick added, "The response of the community to the disaster was exemplary."

The marker lists the names of the victims on one side and describes the event on the other, calling it "the worst tragedy of its kind in the nation."

Others who participated in the ceremony were: Roger Harner, one of the men who fought the fire; Clarence Ellett, a member of the Huron County Health Department in 1963; Kris Boey, whose great grandmother was killed in the fire; and J. D. Britton, a member of the Local History Office of the Ohio Historical Society.

Members of the Fitchville and New London American Legions presented the colors, the Rev. Tom Matus of the Fitchville United Methodist Church gave the invocation and the Rev. Keith Bailey, pastor of the Fitchville Church of Christ, gave the benediction.

Also, a statement was read from filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, who made a documentary about the fire that was shown locally when it was released in 2006.

Immediately following the dedication a reception was held in the basement of the Fitchville United Methodist Church, where pictures and articles about the fire were displayed.

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