Many prominent Butler and Warren county residents died this year, from notable fire department members to judges to business community members to coaches.
Here are some newsmakers, in alphabetical order, who passed away this year:
A retired Franklin fire captain was remembered for his compassion and his sense of humor.
Fire Capt. Tony Abston, who died Sept. 23, retired about two years ago due to health issues. He was 55.
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Franklin Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said Abston showed compassion with patients during EMS runs.
“He really looked out for the well-being of others as he made them as comfortable as possible,” he said. “If it was an EMS run during the winter, he’d make sure there were plenty of blankets for the patients.”
Abston also served 18 years as president of International Association of Firefighters Local 3742.
“It’s a shame he’s gone,” said Franklin Twp. Fire Chief Steve Bishop. “He was great to work with.”
Hamilton native James “Jim” L. Blount, editor of the Journal-News who later spearheaded numerous transportation projects, died Aug. 22. He was 82.
The 1953 Hamilton High School graduate worked on the school newspaper and for a radio show on WMOH.
A member of the Butler County Transportation Improvement District board since 1994, including chairman in recent years, Blount was a major force in creating road improvements that included the Ohio 129 link from Interstate 75 to Hamilton; in the Liberty Center area; the Ohio 4 Bypass; and South Hamilton Crossing, whose overpass was named after him in July.
He taught high school history in Hamilton for six years. In 1963, he started working full-time for the Journal-News, becoming the editor in the early 1970s. In 1986, he returned to teaching civics and history at Wilson Junior High School.
He was named Hamilton Citizen of the Year for 2005 and was Hamilton City Schools’ Teacher of the Year for 1991-1992. He also was inducted into the city school district’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Butler County Historical Society’s Distinguished Historian Award in 2001.
Nancy Bock, 60, who served 18 years as Fairfield Twp.’s fiscal officer, and in 2015 was re-elected to another four-year term, died on Nov. 29.
The news of her death was delivered by Fairfield Twp. Trustee President Susan Berding at the start of a zoning public hearing at the township administration building. The meeting was continued because the trustees and township staff were visibly shaken by the news of Bock’s death.
Berding offered condolences on behalf of the board to Bock’s family, friends and township employees.
“As we move forward in our actions of our township, we will diligently work to honor Nancy’s tenure with the township in continuing the service to the community,” she said. “But I feel it is most appropriate to open and continue the meeting in progress (and resume it on another day).”
Richard “Dick” Capozzi
Richard “Dick” Capozzi, a longtime Realtor and businessman, died on Nov. 8. He was 83.
After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to Middletown to begin a long career in real estate. For the next 50 years, he worked with Sawyer Realtors, Henkle-Schueler and Martin Realty. In 1959, he and his brothers, Tony and Frank, opened Capozzi Shoes on Central Avenue in Middletown, later moving to the Highview Center.
After closing the shoe store, he opened Capozzi’s Italian Restaurant with a few family members. The restaurant is closed.
Marilyn Collmer, former manager of a Hamilton business incubator and vice president of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, died on Jan. 7. She managed BizTech from 2003 to 2013.
Her career began in social service work and transitioned into division director of the Lima Area Chamber of Commerce, then director/certified business analyst for the Hamilton Chamber Small Business Development Center, and owner/manager of Franer Apartments and president of Marilyn Collmer and Associates.
She stepped down as manager of BizTech after 10 years because it was “time to go for more challenges in my career,” she said in a 2014 interview with the Journal-News. During her tenure, more than 31 businesses “graduated” from the program by growing strong enough to operate independently and move out of the center into the local area.
Courtney Duff, who was named Realtor of the Year in 1995, died Sept. 4. He was 82.
But his family and friends remembered him for his generosity more than his business dealings. He always took care of the those who were sick, those dealing with a drug addiction, those in financial trouble, they said.
Tammy Miller, one of his two daughters, remembered a woman who was 19 years old back in the 1980s and because of her age, no one would rent to her. But Duff did.
His wife Mary Lee Duff said that “it never was about money” to her husband.
“The most generous person I ever knew,” she said.
Back in the 1980s, when interest rates soared and the real estate market plummeted, Duff withdrew money from his bank account to give to his church, she said. While he was losing money, he understood the importance of tithing, she said.
Robert “Bob” Ernst
The Butler County community lost one of its champions when Robert “Bob” Ernst died on Feb. 5. He spent decades volunteering his time and talent to organizations like the United Way, YMCA, Joe Nuxhall Hope Project and Badin High School.
Ernst died at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford after a lengthy illness. He was 73.
“I always felt he was my strongest supporter,” said Kelli Kurtz, a friend of Ernst’s and Badin’s executive director of advancement. “Whatever I went on to do in my life and my career, he was always one of the first people to reach out to say, ‘I’m proud of you’ and ‘Keep working hard, you can do it.’ I’m really going to miss that.”
And Badin will miss the impact of one of its greatest cheerleaders, she said.
“You don’t find people every often who care of an organization that it becomes a part of their life’s mission. That’s what Badin was to Bob,” said Kurtz. “It’s hard to describe the impact Bob Ernst had on Badin High School in his lifetime, and in our history.”
He was inducted into the Badin High School Hall of Honor and Butler/Warren County Business Hall of Fame.
Jack Gordon spent his life around football, and he enjoyed nothing more than Friday nights on the sidelines.
The 1949 Hamilton High School graduate played football at the University of Cincinnati and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Instead of playing professionally, Gordon chose a career path than included a 24-year coaching career and work as a high school teacher and radio broadcaster.
He died Jan. 28 at Hospice Care of Butler and Warren Counties. He was 85.
Affectionately called the ‘Ol’ Coach,’ Gordon was an assistant football coach at North College Hill for five seasons, then one season at Lima. He made his mark in Middletown where he coached the Middies for 18 seasons, compiling a 116-59-1 record and producing 11 All-Ohio players. He also served as assistant coach under Paul Walker for one season.
After he retired from coaching, Gordon remained close to the game, serving as play-by-play announcer — the “Voice of the Middies” — on WPFB radio.
Cancer-stricken youngster Walter Herbert’s life was short, but his legacy wasn’t.
The Fairfield Central Elementary student who went by the nickname of “Superbubz” — and for many embodied a superhero’s courage — died Oct. 6 at his home.
The first-grader’s brave struggle and buoyant attitude captured the hearts of the region as he was honored by major area sports stars, police departments and enjoyed a special early graduation from high school courtesy of Fairfield Schools.
He and Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto formed a special friendship. Votto gave him a high-five after he homered on Aug. 31. Then Votto gave the boy his bat and jersey. Votto attended his visitation.
After the season Votto won the 2017 MLB Best Player Fan Interaction award.
Fairfield Schools Superintendent Billy Smith said “anyone that had the pleasure of meeting Superbubz will remember his bright smile that could light up any room. He showed the courage of a true superhero as he fought a hard and brave battle against cancer.”
Rev. Donald H. Jordan Sr.
A longtime funeral home director, who owned businesses through Butler County, including Hall Jordan & Pretty Memorial Chapel on South Main Street in Middletown, Donald Jordan Sr. was remembered for the lives he touched. Jordan, who started in the funeral business in 1953, died Jan. 2. He was 83.
Those closest to Jordan said he frequently helped young black morticians who attended Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science get established in the business, and he always provided funeral services for families, regardless of their finances.
“You couldn’t have found a better boss anywhere,” said Joe Thomas, 68, a funeral assistant who worked for Jordan for 50 years. “If you didn’t have it, and he knew you didn’t have it, he made sure you were taken care of. Wonderful man.”
After opening a Middletown funeral home in 1953, Jordan expanded to Hamilton in 1959 and to Cincinnati, purchasing the Lee Funeral Home in 1966, the Houston Funeral Home in 1972, the Pierce and Peoples Funeral Home in 1974, the Wrassman Funeral Home in 1976 and the Denman-Radel Funeral Home in 1988.
Green Funeral Home in Hamilton was purchased in 1990, Thompson Funeral Home in Cincinnati in 1997 and Jones & Simpson Funeral Home in Covington, Ky., in 1999.
Fairfield City Councilman Bob Myron died on July 19 after being in the hospital for a medical procedure. He was 76.
During Myron’s funeral service, Sacred Heart pastor Father Larry Tharp said: “Bob was a big part of the Fairfield community. He was a big advocate for our city. Bob was a man who believed in his community, and he didn’t just talk as a man who believed in his community — he acted as one who believed in his community. Fairfield is better for Bob’s presence, and we are all better in Fairfield because Bob cared for all of us.”
Myron grew up in Pittsburgh, graduated from Duquesne University and received training from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and the Harvard Business School. And when he relocated his family to Southwest Ohio more than four decades ago, it wasn’t initially in Fairfield.
Most of his professional career was with Mosler, Inc. in Hamilton, and he retired at the end of 2003. However, he didn’t stay retired as he formed his own consulting firm, Bob Myron & Associates, focusing on marketing and sales programs.
But one would not have known he wasn’t a native just by looking at his volunteer resume: Fairfield Parks and Recreation Board member and vice chair, Fairfield Planning Commission member, Fairfield Community Arts Advisory Committee, and Fairfield City Council member. He also served on the Butler County Mental Health Board (including as president) and the Butler County United Way board.
Betty Lou Nein
Even in her final days, Betty Lou Nein never met a stranger.
As a patient at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, she made time to meet everyone on staff, from the surgeons to the custodians. She knew their names and the names of their children.
“It didn’t make any difference to her,” said her son, Rick Nein. “She knew them all.”
On Jan. 24, hours after having heart surgery, Nein died at Good Samaritan. She was 95.
Before she died, the family got to spend time with her, Rick Nein said.
“It’s been good,” he said. “She left a legacy that will be hard to live up to. She was a wonderful mom and she’s with dad now. What more could you want?”
Another son, Scott Nein, called his mother “a great one” who will be missed by the Middletown community.
“She loved the community,” he said. “Her fingerprints can be seen everywhere.”
The sons said their parents thoroughly enjoyed working on projects together.
“A good team,” Scott Nein said of his parents.
Rick Nein added: “Mom and dad operated as a team.”
Nein earned a place in the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in 1998 and Outstanding Women of Butler County in 1990. The Hamilton native lived at Mount Pleasant in Monroe.
Retired Hamilton Deputy Fire Chief David F. Rains died on July 9. He was 72.
Those close to Rains remembered him for many things. He was a snazzy dresser and a great storyteller, whose unique turns of phrase entertained listeners. He was proud to be a firefighter in his hometown of Hamilton. And yet, the Vietnam veteran was quite modest.
“He always worried about everybody else, over himself,” said one of his daughters, Jennifer Eilerman of Hamilton. “He always used to go by the saying, ‘I am third,’ behind family and friends. He always wanted to make sure everybody else was taken care of before himself, and it showed in his work ethic, it showed in his family life, everything he did.”
He joined the city’s fire service Nov. 11, 1968, and retired May 7, 1999.
Despite a life altered by a sports tragedy, Robert J. “Bobby” Schuster spread laughter, love and encouragement to those whose lives were less — and more — fortunate than his, friends and family say.
Schuster, a lifelong resident of Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood, was educated at St. Ann School before graduating from Badin High School in 1971.
The following year, on May 2, 1972, he broke his neck during a softball game while playing the outfield. He ran into an unpadded light pole and was paralyzed. Doctors estimated he would live 10 years. He beat those odds, and in the decades that followed, he graduated from Miami University and encouraged not only those who were paralyzed like himself, but also gave perspective to people who thought they were having a bad day.
Schuster, whose grace was an inspiration to many, died Jan. 29 at his home. He was 63.
“Bobby was the kind of guy that no matter how bad your day was, his day was worse, but he never told you it was worse,” said nephew Brian Schuster of Mason. “I, being one of his nephews, never once in my entire life heard him complain about him being in the wheelchair or being in the accident, or what could have been, or what should have been, as much as, ‘This is what happened to me, and this is what I’ve got to do to get through it.’”
A Middletown man who spent most of his life in Boy Scouts died on May 26 in his home. Everett Sherron was 100.
Sherron, a Paducah, Ky., native, moved to Middletown as a child when his father took a job with the Boy Scouts. A year later, he became a Scout and remained active with Troop 718. He was involved in scouting for 70 years.
Although he was drafted into World War II, he was given a medical release due to a previous surgery but continued to contribute to the war effort by building aircraft engines in a defense plant. He then worked for Black Clawson for 35 years.
He served many years as an usher at First United Methodist Church and staffed the Middletown Historical Society’s Canal Museum every Sunday afternoon.
Judge Mark Wall
Judge Mark Wall, who served as Middletown Municipal Court judge from 1995-2017, died Feb. 11 of a cardiovascular event in his home. He was 70.
Greg Rolph, a volunteer bailiff in Wall’s courtroom, doesn’t believe anyone will ever show the compassion toward those in the courtroom that Wall, a Middletown native, displayed.
“You will never replace him,” Rolph said. “The law is the law and there’s not a lot on interpretation into the As, Bs and Cs of crime. The difference was he was compassionate and he had empathy for people.”
Rolph said he remembers when a 30-year-old Middletown woman, who had no criminal record, was charged with shoplifting after she allegedly stole a pack of gum from a store. Wall didn’t want that one mistake to ruin her life, Rolph said.
The judge told the woman, “‘Promise me you won’t do this again,’” Rolph said.
Wall saw both sides of life, the accused and the victims, Rolph said.
“He sees the worst of the worst in front of him,” Rolph said. “Then he can look straight out and see their grieving family. We don’t have control over what our children and friends do. He had compassion for both sides. He was able to pull it together. He treated everyone equally.”
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers agreed, saying Wall had the “patience of Job” in the courtroom.
“He was always fair,” Powers said. “Always willing to listen, to give people their due.”
Wall, who graduated from Middletown’s Fenwick High School and from Miami University, earned his law degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1973. During the Vietnam conflict, he served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army. He received several citations and awards, including the Bronze Star Medal.