Family, friends and fellow fire fighters said a final goodbye to one of Mt. Orab’s former fire chiefs on February 4.
Funeral services were held for 81-year-old Chester Lanter, who served on the Mt. Orab Fire Department from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. He was a 25-year volunteer member of the fire department and seven of those years he served as Fire Chief.
Born in Winchester, and raised in Georgetown and Ripley, Lanter ultimately chose to settle in Mt. Orab to raise a family. He carried more than one title over the years, too. But, he was simply known as “Chetty” to those who knew him best.
During the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Chetty served on the Mt. Orab Village Council. This position also became volunteer of his own volition. Council members were normally paid $15 per meeting during that era. In 2012, he recalled, “Mt. Orab didn’t have much money back then. We didn’t have a fraction of the finances the town has today. And, I didn’t feel right accepting a check for attending meetings when the town was struggling, financially.”
Each month when council members received a check for their services, Chetty endorsed the back of his check and handed it back to the village. Upon learning that Chetty wouldn’t accept payment, other council members began following suit and endorsed their checks back to the village each month, too. “Times were so hard back then, we couldn’t even afford a new police cruiser,” he remembered. “We could only afford used police cruisers”.
Due to difficult economic times, the village also could not afford a salt spreader, nor, much salt for that matter. During the winter months when snow and ice would accumulate, Lanter stood on the back of a truck shoveling salt at the approaches to intersections. “We couldn’t afford to salt entire streets like they can today. And, spending money on a salt spreader was out of the question,” he recalled.
Deciding not to seek re-election to council one year, Lanter, instead wanted to focus all of his efforts on the fire department. However, he was approached by a handful of townspeople just days prior to the election with pleas for him to run as a write-in candidate. Having difficulty saying ‘no’, Chetty was persuaded and ultimately gave his approval as a write-in candidate. Word spread throughout the village and he was re-elected to another term.
Prior to his time as a council member, Chetty also served numerous terms on the Mt. Orab Board of Public Affairs. “We didn’t have money in that department, either,” he recalled. When Chetty and his wife, Deloris, built a new family home three miles from the village in 1977, Board of Public Affairs President Scott Liming informed Chetty there was enough pipe to extend the one-half mile stretch needed to reach the new home. But, the board could not afford the labor necessary to extend it.
Chetty’s skills as a construction worker proved to be the solution to the problem. With the help of his brother and fellow construction worker, Larry Lanter, the two men provided the free labor, the village provided the pipe, and the extension was completed.
Lanter’s full-time employment was at the Glenn Rhoades Construction Company.
During his 38 years as a heavy equipment operator, he helped build numerous highway bridges that remain in use today throughout Brown, Adams, Clermont and Highland counties.
Boating enthusiasts who visit Rocky Fork Lake State Park near Hillsboro have undoubtedly at some point docked their vessels at one of the concrete boat docks that Lanter helped construct. The construction company, which used to be located on Apple Street in Mt. Orab, also assisted the Village of Mt. Orab whenever help was needed, and often at no charge.
When the train depot was no longer used by the railroad, it was secured by caring townspeople who didn’t want to see it demolished. Glenn Rhoades provided the equipment, and Lanter helped move the depot from its original location on North High Street to its present-day location at the corner of Front and Woodward streets.
As fire chief, Lanter took an interest in the community’s young men who were eager to serve as fire fighters. Under his leadership the department’s Cadet Fireman Program was launched in 1975. He also saw a great need for a new fire house, even though the department couldn’t afford it. When reflecting back, Lanter in 2012, specifically recalled two business leaders in the community who shared in the vision.
He said, “We had a lot of support and donations from residents in the village and townships we served. But, the two men who stand out in my mind who felt they couldn’t do enough to help us, financially, were Claire Thompson and Tom Bohl. Thompson owned the Thompson Funeral Home and Bohl and his wife, Ava Jo, owned the Kibler Lumber Co.
“Every time I saw those men, they would hand me a $100 bill and tell me to use that toward the new fire house”. Despite the generous donations, though, the remaining construction costs still needed to be financed through the local banking institution of the community – The Brown County National Bank, which was also owned by Tom and Ava Jo Bohl.
Lanter said, “There wasn’t a single time the bank ever turned us down for a loan. I’ll never forget what they did to help the department.” Lanter’s eldest son, Scott, vividly remembers his father’s tenure on the fire department. “He would head out the door to his construction job before dawn, and many times wouldn’t arrive home until well after the Sun went down. My mother, Deloris, always had a hot meal waiting on the table for him when he arrived home. He always took time to sit down and eat with us, inquire about our schooling, and catch up on all of our interests. Then, he was right back out the door and over to the fire house where a truck was always being worked on, or in some cases, completely overhauled. He never stopped.”
Four fire fighters who served under Lanter never forgot their chief, and attended the funeral Saturday, February 4. David Cremer, Duane Stinson, Don Banyea and Mark Rembis joined with the department’s Honor Guard in standing at attention and saluted the man they looked up to for decades.
“Dad would have been very proud of that moment,” said Scott Lanter. “He thought all in the world of these men who were very young when he was fire chief. My mother, sister and I are deeply touched by their admiration for Dad. He was very fond of them, appreciated their dedication to the department, and was grateful for their friendship. These men know the tough days on the department because they lived through it.”
Unlike today, the department relied heavily on fundraising to help keep it’s equipment maintained. From passing out coin cards in the community and surrounding townships, to roasting fresh corn on the cob at festivals, the volunteer fire fighters worked tirelessly.
“My sister and I would go with our dad every year and deliver the coin cards to residents. Dad actually fed a coin card to a dog one time because it was trying to attack him,” recalled Lanter’s son. The coin cards even became a tradition for some residents every year. When reflecting back a few years ago, Chetty remarked, “Some people would actually call us if they didn’t get their coin card when they thought they should each year. We had a lot of community support.”
Chetty was also instrumental in helping launch the Mt. Orab Life Squad in the early 1970’s. “He even volunteered my mother to serve as secretary when the life squad was forming,” Lanter’s son said. “If memory serves me correctly, I don’t think she knew she had been volunteered until Dad arrived home and told her. But, she gladly served for many years, even after Dad’s service on the fire department had ended.”
When the fire department constructed a newer and much larger fire house in 2011, Chetty attended the open house and was impressed with the modern enhancements made to advance the department. His son remembers the first time his father saw the new building.
“Knowing the financial struggles Dad and his fellow fire fighters had to go through, especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s, he was glad the present-day department didn’t have those same struggles and could focus solely on fighting fires.”
The following year, Chetty lost his last living and closest brother, Larry, and knew that his own life was soon entering its sunset stage. But, he had one item on his bucket list that had never been achieved.
When Chetty was 18 years old, he and his sister, Bernice (Lanter) Herrmann, drove their brother, Ralph Lanter, to an army base in Virginia. During the journey, they drove across a small portion of the historic Blue Ridge Parkway that extends 469 miles between Virginia and North Carolina. He was captivated by the scenic views he had seen.
Chetty had always vowed he would some day drive across the entire length of the parkway. Scott Lanter said, “We knew Dad’s health would be declining soon. And, I knew if he was going to get across the parkway before he died, I was going to have to take him, myself. So, he and I hit the road in the Fall of 2012 and headed to Virginia.
Two days later, we reached mile marker 469 on the parkway and Dad was elated that he finally achieved his goal 60 years after first starting the journey.” He added, “I’m glad we went, too, because the following Spring would have been too late. Dad’s health had already started declining to the point he was not able to travel very far.”
When Chetty learned that his long-time friend and fellow fire chief Bob Bingaman had passed away in 2015, he was saddened, but reminded his son that it was, “time for their generation to go”.
“Dad had the highest respect for Bob. They accomplished a lot together on the fire department. But, Dad also believed that every generation has a time and a purpose. He knew that his own time on this Earth was coming to a close, too. And, he tried his best to prepare us for it. Dad always put others before himself, even right up to the very end of his life. That was just Chetty,” said Scott Lanter.
As a final tribute, a Mt. Orab fire truck led the funeral procession to the cemetery.