A city carries on

Honoring the memories of those we lost

By Connie Haas Zuber
Families and friends carry on after losing a loved one, and cities do, too, especially when the loss is of someone who gave generously to the place and its people.
Every January, Fort Wayne Monthly pauses to honor the memories of the people we lost in the past year. Because of our publication schedule, we start this 2013 list at the end of 2011.

Russ Choka
A lifetime of daily work at Coney Island Wiener Stand, which he co-owned, was also a lifetime spent with and for people for Russ Choka. Remembered not only for his skill and dedication in chopping 50 pounds of onions every day but also for caring for and guiding employees and customers, Choka stepped into the restaurant business in the 1950s when his father-in-law Vasil Eshcoff (who became a co-owner in 1916, two years after it opened) was in failing health.

Born in Fort Wayne to Macedonian parents, Choka sold newspapers downtown as a boy and served as an Army medic in World War II in the Pacific Islands. He married Helen Eshcoff in 1947. He died at 88 on Dec. 16, 2011.

Joe Ruffolo
Joe Ruffolo didn’t move to Fort Wayne until 1974, becoming CEO of North American Van Lines, but his impact on the local business community is as big as if he had worked here twice as many years. After “retiring” from that job, he began working in business investing and development, always with the goal of retaining and regaining local ownership of regional businesses. Former mayor Graham Richard was one of his business partners. He also shared his financial acumen with local nonprofits. He died at 70 on Dec. 27, 2011.

Sharon Rossi
Her raspy voice was a mainstay of the drive home from work and during evenings listening to rock ’n’ roll music on WXKE-FM. Sharon Rossi was respected as “the most passionate woman in rock ’n’ roll radio” here, according to her friend and co-worker Rick “Doc” West, the station’s morning host and program director. She was with the station for about 17 years from the 1980s to the early 2000s. She died at 52 on Feb. 21, 2012.

Fred Burke
A career beginning at the General Electric Apprentice School saw Fred Burke found and become CEO of Advanced Machine and Tool Corp., from which he retired. By 2000, Advanced was the largest U.S. manufacturer of automated systems for the electric motor industry in both revenue and output. He died at 73 on March 25, 2012.

Marjorie Bowstrom
Becoming executive secretary in the 1950s to Fred Zollner, chairman of Zollner Corp. put Marjorie Bowstrom on the path to the corner office herself. She succeeded Zollner in 1982 as chairwoman of the board and CEO, at a time when few female executives worked in manufacturing. She represented Zollner when he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his history as owner of the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons team, now the Detroit Pistons. She moved to Texas to be near family after her retirement in 1990. She died at 93 in late March, 2012.

John Suarez
Fellow labor leaders called John Suarez “a lion of the labor movement” because of their respect for his 17 years as business manager for Laborers International Local 213, which represents workers in the building trades. Since 2001, Suarez held the mayor’s appointment as the citizen member of the city Board of Public Works. He had become a U.S. citizen after moving here from Mexico in 1955 and was also active working for immigrants and immigration policy. He died at 71 on April 6, 2012.

Dede Hall
Her brightest time in the spotlight was when she represented the 5th District on City Council after the 1995 election, but Dede Hall was already well known as a member of the Halls Restaurants family, for her neighborhood work and for serving on the school board of St. John the Baptist Catholic School on the city’s south side. On Council, she worked for rental housing regulations, which passed, and against smoking restrictions, which also passed. She died at 62 on June 25, 2012.

Patty Martone
Patty Martone always made it obvious how much she loved Fort Wayne and its people, and people loved her right back.

A Fort Wayne native, she was an educator and writer.  Her active retirement continued a volunteer career for organizations including the YWCA, St. Joseph’s Hospital, University of Saint Francis, North Side High School Alumni Board and the United Way.

She is remembered by many as not just a teacher and administrator for Fort Wayne Community Schools (notably at Central High School, now Anthis Career Center) but also as a mentor and tireless source of encouragement.

After having survived two bouts of cancer, Martone died at 81 on July 9, 2012.

Joan Uebelhoer
Recognized both at home and nationwide for her activism for women’s rights, Joan Uebelhoer kept working until the end. Along the way she taught in our public and parochial schools, was elected county auditor in 1975, was the Public Transportation Company’s director of finances, director of the county Department of Public Welfare and director of Planned Parenthood here. She was a co-founder of Fort Wayne Feminists and Daybreak crisis homes for children. She was an organizer of the state’s first university women’s studies program at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where she was associate professor from 1977 until 1989 and continued some teaching until she was 80. In 2009, she was involved in the startup of the Fort Wayne Hedge School, a women’s history library. She is in the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was named a Torchbearer by the Indiana Commission of Women. She died at 83 on September 8, 2012.

Wayne Schaltenbrand
In a long and respected career as an actor, dancer and singer on Fort Wayne stages, Wayne Schaltenbrand finally missed an opening night when he died this year. He was directing Arena Dinner Theatre’s production of “Busybody.” He was a founding member of Arena but acted across the city, and he is remembered for his dramatic roles as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” and as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” A native Pennsylvanian, he had moved to Fort Wayne in 1967 for a job as a biochemistry researcher at the Fort Wayne State Developmental Center. He died at 67 on Sept. 28, 2012.

Ron Harmeyer
Ron Harmeyer is remembered for his passionate love of his career as a television
photojournalist at WANE-TV, from which he retired in 2012. From behind the camera, he brought viewers to the scene of news events both celebratory and horrific since 1964. He was inducted into the Indiana Associated Press Hall of Fame in 2011. He died on Sept. 28, 2012.

Happy the Hobo
Parents and children knew him from 1982 to 1990 as the WFFT children’s cartoon show host Happy the Hobo, but Mike L. Fry moved on to Indianapolis
where he built his Fancy Fortune Cookie business into a success. The show, “Happy’s Place,” was broadcast in more than 200
cities nationwide. Born in Illinois, he grew up in Huntington County and became a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown before his TV career. He died at 51
on Nov. 4, 2012.

A special gift from Loren “Jim” Drummond
Fort Wayne native and Central High School graduate Loren “Jim” Drummond returned home from World War II service in the U.S. Army and worked his way up to general manager of Maloley Grocery Stores for 24 years. He retired in 1981 and died at 89 on Jan. 11, 2011. Then in 2012 he gave the city a big surprise.

The Fort Wayne Community Foundation announced in March Drummond’s surprise bequest of nearly a quarter of a million dollars as an unrestricted gift to help the people of Fort Wayne.

“I only wish we could have thanked Mr. Drummond for his gift,” foundation Executive Director David Bennett told the Journal Gazette. “What a marvelous story
of a local person who — for many of us — gave a fortune to help local organizations in his hometown not only now, but in perpetuity.”

Posted: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 1:56 pm
Last updated: Tue, 03/12/2013 - 12:38 pm