Firefighters mourn loss of longtime Townsend member

Townsend Fire Company Station 26 engines and vehicles are positioned outside  Saturday morning. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Townsend Fire Company Station 26 engines and vehicles are positioned outside Saturday morning. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

TOWNSEND – A life well lived for almost a century was saluted on Saturday.

By all accounts, the late Clarence A. Schwatka Jr. was an icon in his southern New Castle County hometown and well beyond, evidenced by the large turnout for funeral services at Townsend Fire Company Station 26.

Mr. Schwatka, the state’s longest-serving firefighter at the time, died at age 98 on June 11, after a yearlong illness.

He was a World War II artillery detachment veteran and Townsend FC past chief, town postmaster and Chief Sergeant at Arms in the Delaware Senate, serving with distinction at all times.

His personal life was just as successful, evidenced by his surviving wife of 78 years Beulah (the last remaining original member of the Townsend FC ladies auxiliary), a daughter, three grandchildren, five great grandchildren and six great great grand children.

Speaking in 2014, Mr. Schwatka said staying involved for 80 years was easy.

“My community always came first, and when I started as a junior member the fire company was the biggest organization in town,” he said.

Edward Schwatka described his uncle on the ground level of getting the Townsend Fire Company started eight decades ago and was “very talented, educated and energetic. He was quite active and always kept moving.

“I haven’t heard anyone say anything bad about him.”

Serving as Townsend’s postmaster, “he knew everyone in town and treated them all as a friend,” Mr. Schwatka’s nephew remembered.

“When we talked about his time in the war, he would remember all of his comrades by names and what they went through together.”

Service with distinction

Even with the longevity involved “His accolades far outweighed his year of service,” said Townsend FC member David Hall Sr., who considered Mr. Schwatka a key role model in his formative years as a firefighter.

“[Mr. Schwatka] not only touched this community but had an impact statewide and nationwide,” Mr. Hall said.

“He’s served in every capacity possible when it comes to the fire company and was a very large mentor to me in how to conduct myself, how to dress in uniform and meet with the public.

Townsend Fire Company Station 26 honored the late Clarence A. Schwatka Sr. on Saturday.

Townsend Fire Company Station 26 honored the late Clarence A. Schwatka Sr. on Saturday.

“The amount of contributions he made were unprecedented.”

Chief Rickie Clark said during his own 20 years of service, Mr. Schwatka “was a constant guide to every chief I’ve ever known.

“He was the kind of guy who always kept involved with the company and the state. He never tried to instill old wisdom, but he got you to find your way. He was a calming voice when things were going nuts.

“You could sit with him and have a conversation whether it was about the fire business or anything else and you’d be able to take a breath and see things more clearly at the end.”

According to long-time family friend Dave Hughes of Smyrna, “Eighty years in the fire department, that’s a legend alone. The man deserves as much recognition as he can get. He must have seen a heckuva lot of history.”

Indeed, Mr. Hughes said, “This is not a normal firefighter’s funeral. He was somebody special, he was a very friendly man, very likable and very lovable.”

There was just one thing Mr. Clark couldn’t remember about the late Mr. Schwatka.

“In 20 years I never heard the man yell,” he said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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