Gary Southerland

Gary Southerland

Gary L. Southerland, 68, of Westfield, Indiana, went to be with the Lord on January 12, 2020, after living courageously with occupational cancer for many years. He was the real deal: a proud husband, father, grandfather, friend, and dedicated servant of his community.

Gary started as a volunteer firefighter in 1974. Westfield Fire Department hired him as the second full-time firefighter (unit number 102) in 1978. He continued to serve for 34 more years. Gary had many titles throughout his career—lieutenant, captain, chief—but most just called him “South.”

He was married to his bride and the love of his life, Tamra, for 41 years. His love for God, Tamra, family, friends, and community defined him. All that knew him felt that love.

Gary looked for and embraced joy in the typical day-to-day activities. He had a quick wit and enjoyed pranking his friends. Gary was a jack of all trades and could fix and build anything, always while whistling. He made many ideas come to life over the years while working in his workshop. Gary was always one phone call away from helping anyone who asked. His heart was kind, and he truly believed in living in that kindness and love.

Gary was known for inviting the policemen to stop by the firehouse for a homecooked meal and fellowship on holidays, knowing they were also away from their families. He would hold important meetings with these same police officers and other firefighters that consisted of playing pool, calling them “Community Relations Meetings.” That was just another example of how he supported and loved people.

His sons Nick and Josh have followed their father into the fire service, and his daughter Brooke is serving in the medical field. He was so proud of them. Gary could often be found at breakfast or lunch with a friend, telling them about his family with pride.

Gary was a loving grandfather to five granddaughters, Kennedy, Addison, Makayla, Casey, and Reese. He found joy in playing, laughing, and riding in the annual 4th of July tractor parade. He loved his granddaughters fully and completely.

Our hearts grieve for him every day, but we continue to feel his presence in the sound of someone whistling, the sight of a red tractor, the look and smell of a fresh cut lawn, and connecting with those around us. We will honor his legacy through living and loving by his example of love and service to those around us.

Timothy D. Medsker

Timothy D. Medsker

Timothy D. Medsker (Tim) was born July 29, 1966, in Danville, Indiana. He was the youngest of seven children and came from an extremely close and supportive family. That closeness carried on into his adult life and was a major factor in why he remained in the community of Mooresville, Indiana, where he was raised.

Tim graduated from Mooresville High School in 1984 and was part of the Volunteer Explorer Program during his youth. He was a dispatcher for Mooresville and Plainfield Fire Territory in Plainfield, Indiana, prior to beginning his official firefighter career at the Mooresville Fire Department in February 1994. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1997, captain in 1999, and chief in 2009. He was named Firefighter of the Year twice during his tenure at the Mooresville Fire Department. He dedicated his life to public service, and his firefighting career spanned over 31 years.

During Tim’s eleven years as the Mooresville fire chief, he implemented a paramedic program, worked with the Mooresville Town Council to purchase a new E1 Engine and E1 Ladder, and was an active member of the entire county. He wrote multiple grants and secured funding to help the Town of Mooresville purchase needed equipment and hire additional personnel. His focus was always on the firefighters under his command and the betterment of Mooresville’s community as a whole.

Tim held his position as Mooresville’s fire chief in such high regard and always tried to learn how he could improve as a leader. He read multiple books and continuously researched to ensure he was doing his part as times changed. He was a humble and well-respected leader who is remembered by his quick wit and unmatchable sense of humor.

Tim was a member of St. Thomas More Catholic Church and had a strong, unwavering faith. He married his best friend, Tammy, on April 29, 1995, and raised two children, Baron and Payton, in Mooresville, Indiana. He was a loyal, dedicated family man who enjoyed coaching his children’s athletic teams as they were growing up. He loved to travel, especially to his favorite place, Panama City Beach, Florida. His plan was to retire there, but he unexpectedly passed away on July 13, 2020, at the age of 53. He had such a big presence in everyone’s life that the void his passing left will always be felt by his family, friends, department, and Mooresville’s community.

Matthew D. Bennett

Matthew D. Bennett

Matthew David Bennett was born December 23, 1970, in, Indianapolis, to proud parents, Rosanne Banich Bennett and Sylvester Walter Bennett Jr. Matt’s childhood dream was to become a fireman. One of his mother’s fondest memories is when four-year-old Matt dialed 911 to report a fire in the neighborhood just to see the trucks race by en route to the imaginary fire. This resulted in a visit from the local sheriff to remind a tearful, repentant boy the importance of calling 911. As a teen, he joined the Explorer Scouting Program that allows youth to specialize in fire and rescue. His passion flourished as he was exposed to mentors and opportunities to explore the world of firefighting. Matt built lifelong friendships and continued to follow his dreams as a junior firefighter and cadet.

A 23- year veteran firefighter and dedicated public servant of 38 years, Matt became a Wayne Township reserve firefighter in 1982. In 1997, he was appointed to the Franklin Township Fire Department and later to the Indianapolis Fire Department when Franklin Township merged with IFD in 2010. Prior to his appointment, Matt was an IFD dispatcher and EMT. His years of service made him a well-respected, well-loved mentor and educator within the firefighting community.

In 2004, Matt welcomed his daughter, Samantha Rae, with her mother, Lee Ann Bennett. Samantha became the joy of his life, sharing daddy-daughter dances and a love of country music. Samantha loved when he sang along with the car radio, motorcycle rides, and visiting him at the firehouse, learning early her father’s passion for firefighting.

When Matt was not fighting fires, he enjoyed riding his motorcycle. He was always ready to take his RV out and dreamed of traveling the country when he retired. Matt had a personality bigger than life and could be heard a mile away. He was often the planner for family functions and looked forward to the annual Fire Department Instructors Conference and St. Patrick’s Day. He was always busy around the house, and household supplies were always available, as he loved to bulk shop. To maintain his figure, Matt enjoyed Diet Mountain Dew, gas station hot dogs, Qdoba, and Long’s donuts. Known as “Grape Ape” by his friends and as a practical jokester, Matt always found ways to have fun. Matt loved his family and friends and was a reliable presence in his community, always ready to help.

Matt is survived by his daughter, Samantha; his mother, Rosanne; sister, Jennifer Ann Bennett; brother, Jeffrey Alan Bennett (Jonalyn); nephew and niece, Deandre and Joie Bennett; grandchild, Grace Robinson; and his brothers and sisters of the Indianapolis Fire Department.

 

Donald P. Thelen

Donald P. Thelen

Donald “Don” Thelen built a log cabin in the country for his wife and children. He enjoyed working with his hands and finished the interior of the cabin alongside his stepfather. On their 15-acre property, he planted many trees that changed a property that used to be a bean field into a beautiful homestead with lots of wildlife. He loved nature and made sure there was plenty of space for the wild animals to roam on the property.

When the children were young, family vacations were spent mainly hiking the state parks and camping.
He was a devout member of St. Anne’s Church in Lafayette, always willing to help set up and take down after church events. They attended services every Sunday and holidays.

Don worked for the railroad and Zinn Kitchens before becoming a Lafayette firefighter, mainly attached to Station #3. He retired from the Lafayette Fire Department after 36 years of faithful service. He was known for his practical jokes at the fire stations and had many people he mentored and called friends. He liked to spend time at and was on the original board of directors of the Old Station #3 Museum, also known as the Historic Five Points Fire Station.

He enjoyed shooting, hiking, and camping. He was involved with the Boy Scouts of America and was an assistant Scoutmaster, helping to plan and attending the camping trips they went on every summer, even being a chaperone for the troop to Washington, DC, one year. Don lent a helping hand to his son on his Eagle Scout project. He was a member of the Lafayette Professional Firefighters Union, Local #472, and the National Rifle Association.

Don was always available at the drop of a hat to help a friend, family member, or any other person in need. He was a family man who always attended his children’s choir and band recitals, then later, their marching band performances and art exhibitions.

He was diagnosed with cancer after less than two years of retirement with his wife. He had planned lots of camping trips during retirement but was only able to enjoy two full summers. Above all, Don cherished the time spent with his wife, children, brother, and his dog, Bree.

John Andrew Schoffstall

John Andrew Schoffstall

John Schoffstall was a loving father, devoted husband, and instant friend to anyone who met him. He died on Easter Sunday, April 12,2020. He is no longer physically present on Earth, but his memory remains forever in our hearts.

John was a community staple. His passions were family, faith, and friends. John would help anyone in need. He was a coach in the Vigo County Youth Football League for his son and his teammates. John loved watching his boys grow and develop. He wasn’t just their coach; he was their biggest fan.

John helped coach his daughter in softball. He loved watching her and her teammates grow into young women while learning teamwork. His softball girls knew that John might be hard on them, but if they needed anything, they could come to him and he would be there.

Family meant everything to John. If he was not at the firehouse, you would find him at one of his children’s sporting events or doing something outdoors. He and his son started a small deer feed and food plot seed business to help support their hunting hobby. In fall 2019, John was able to finally harvest the buck of his dreams. For 6 ½ years, he watched this buck grow into a mature whitetail. This was one of the greatest hunting adventures he and his son had.

John had a passion for the fire service from his young adolescent years, as he watched his father as a firefighter with New Goshen Volunteer Fire and Rescue. John started in the fire service as a cadet. When he came of age, he became a volunteer firefighter with New Goshen Fire and Rescue and Sugar Creek Fire Department.

At age 21, he began his professional career in the fire service at Newport Chemical Depot. During his tenure there, he was given a 4-star General Coin. The General stated he had never seen a fire crew so professional during a landing of a helicopter transporting personnel.

In May 2009, after Newport Chemical closed, John began his career with Terre Haute City Fire Department as a firefighter/paramedic. He loved the career he chose and said it wasn’t a job, because he loved going to the firehouse. When John talked about the fire service, you knew he truly had a passion for helping other people in their time of need.

John’s giving legacy lives on through his wife, Jennifer; children, Jake and Jaidyn; parents, Rex and Trish; sister, Kim (Chris); nephews, Dalton and Garrett; and many family members and friends. We will always remember John’s amazing laugh as it would fill up a room and everyone would smile.

 

Robert G. Cree

Robert G. Cree

Robert G. “Bob” Cree was born on September 17, 1948, in Logansport, Indiana, to R.G. and Gail Cree. He graduated from Pioneer High School in 1966 and attended Lincoln Christian College, where he met his wife, Catherine “Cathy” Blackhurst. Bob and Cathy were married on May 1, 1971, in Kenny, Illinois. After college, Bob entered the ministry and served churches in southern Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana for nearly five decades. When he returned to his hometown of Lucerne, Indiana, he began working for the U.S. Postal Service as a rural carrier, servicing the Lucerne and Twelve Mile areas for 33 years before his retirement.

For 43 years, Bob was a proud firefighter and EMT for the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department in Lucerne. He served as the department secretary and treasurer for a number of those years and was a member of the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association.

On the evening of November 22, 2020, Bob and members of the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department responded to a medical emergency. Just moments after returning home from the call, he collapsed from an apparent heart attack. The same emergency personnel Bob had responded with earlier, his dear friends, responded to his home and rendered aid. Despite their efforts, Bob went home to be with his Lord and Savior.

Bob and Cathy were married for nearly 50 years, building a life based on ministry, family, and service. Together, they raised two children, Robert (Julie) Cree of Remington, Indiana, and Carla (Corey) Gillespie of Brownsburg, Indiana. They were blessed with five grandchildren, Justin and Jordan Cree and Emalee, Mackenzie, and Owen Gillespie. Having grown up across the street from the fire department, Bob’s son, Robert, was a certified EMT before his high school graduation and is now a career firefighter/paramedic with the Valparaiso (Indiana) Fire Department.

Bob loved his community, and he did not know a stranger. Whether loving those he served in a local church, sharing life with families on his mail route, mentoring and encouraging his peers on the fire department, or just passing people he knew in the community, Bob lived out his life calling as a minister of grace and truth to those who needed encouragement or a helping hand. Bob will be deeply missed by his family, friends, and community, but we are so grateful for the legacy he has left for us to build upon.

William Jones

William Jones

Firefighter William Jones of the Indianapolis Fire Department was killed on the March 17, 1890. The fire department was called to the Bowen-Merrill Bookstore on West Washington Street to deal with what appeared to be a routine fire. Instead, it became a major catastrophe, claiming the lives of more firefighters than any other incident in Indianapolis history. The call came at approximately 3 p.m. from employees at the bookstore who had seen smoke. Firefighters arrived at the scene and believed the situation to be relatively safe, with the fire contained to the basement of the building. Because of the flammable contents of the store, firefighters stayed on the scene to make sure the fire was extinguished. A few hours later, however, flames were seen coming from windows in the upper stories. A number of firefighters stationed themselves on top of the building, while others entered the four-story building through upper windows. Without warning, the walls collapsed, dropping many firefighters into the flames. Firefighter William Jones, as well as twelve other firefighters lost their lives, and more than a dozen were seriously injured.

John Burkhart

John Burkhart

Firefighter John Burkhart of the Indianapolis Fire Department was killed on the March 17, 1890. The fire department was called to the Bowen-Merrill Bookstore on West Washington Street to deal with what appeared to be a routine fire. Instead, it became a major catastrophe, claiming the lives of more firefighters than any other incident in Indianapolis history. The call came at approximately 3 p.m. from employees at the bookstore who had seen smoke. Firefighters arrived at the scene and believed the situation to be relatively safe, with the fire contained to the basement of the building. Because of the flammable contents of the store, firefighters stayed on the scene to make sure the fire was extinguished. A few hours later, however, flames were seen coming from windows in the upper stories. A number of firefighters stationed themselves on top of the building, while others entered the four-story building through upper windows. Without warning, the walls collapsed, dropping many firefighters into the flames. Firefighter John Burkhart, as well as twelve other firefighters lost their lives, and more than a dozen were seriously injured.

Anthony Voltz

Anthony Voltz

Firefighter Anthony Voltz of the Indianapolis Fire Department was killed on the March 17, 1890. The fire department was called to the Bowen-Merrill Bookstore on West Washington Street to deal with what appeared to be a routine fire. Instead, it became a major catastrophe, claiming the lives of more firefighters than any other incident in Indianapolis history. The call came at approximately 3 p.m. from employees at the bookstore who had seen smoke. Firefighters arrived at the scene and believed the situation to be relatively safe, with the fire contained to the basement of the building. Because of the flammable contents of the store, firefighters stayed on the scene to make sure the fire was extinguished. A few hours later, however, flames were seen coming from windows in the upper stories. A number of firefighters stationed themselves on top of the building, while others entered the four-story building through upper windows. Without warning, the walls collapsed, dropping many firefighters into the flames. Firefighter Anthony Voltz, as well as twelve other firefighters lost their lives, and more than a dozen were seriously injured.

Henry Woodruff

Henry Woodruff

Pipeman Henry Woodruff of the Indianapolis Fire Department was killed on the March 17, 1890. The fire department was called to the Bowen-Merrill Bookstore on West Washington Street to deal with what appeared to be a routine fire. Instead, it became a major catastrophe, claiming the lives of more firefighters than any other incident in Indianapolis history. The call came at approximately 3 p.m. from employees at the bookstore who had seen smoke. Firefighters arrived at the scene and believed the situation to be relatively safe, with the fire contained to the basement of the building. Because of the flammable contents of the store, firefighters stayed on the scene to make sure the fire was extinguished. A few hours later, however, flames were seen coming from windows in the upper stories. A number of firefighters stationed themselves on top of the building, while others entered the four-story building through upper windows. Without warning, the walls collapsed, dropping many firefighters into the flames. Pipeman Henry Woodruff, as well as twelve other firefighters lost their lives, and more than a dozen were seriously injured.