Beacon Hose was sad Monday to learn of the passing of Robert Butz, the son of our very first chief, George Butz Sr. On behalf of Beacon Hose’s officers, we send our condolences to Robert’s family and would like to share a bit of a lengthy story — but one very much worth reading — to illustrate the Butz family’s history with our department.
These two men shared an extraordinary connection with Beacon Hose — one which held beginning and end points more than a century apart. We’ll recap using a combination of our department history and a pair of news stories (which we’ll link to at the end).
George was elected the first foreman of Beacon Hose when it was established on May 11, 1899, as the Beacon Falls Fire Department (which was actually formed as the firefighting unit of the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company and housed in one of the company’s buildings).
George served as our first foreman — we call it our chief, now — until 1907. He was also heavily involved in the community. He portrayed Santa Claus at Christmas, joined several organizations and even called Friday night square dances at the firehouse. In 1903, Beacon Falls presented George with a chief’s horn that he used to shout orders to his men.
In 1907, the parent company of our shoe factory decided it needed to start a fire department at another factory in Mishawaka, Indiana, and picked George to organize it. He moved to the Midwest — writing in a letter to his future wife that his only regret was leaving the Beacon Falls Fire Department — and took the chief’s horn with him. When his new fire department marched in parades, George carried that horn at the front of each procession.
George died in 1938, but the chief’s horn stayed in his family for decades — until 2011, when his 94-year-old son, Robert, decided it was time for the horn to come back home. He and his family packed up and made a three-day trek to our 2011 parade, where we honored them as Robert presented the horn back to our department.
“It was time (for it) to come home,’’ Robert told the South Bend Tribune after his trip.
Past Chief Ted Smith bestowed upon Robert honorary membership to Beacon Hose, and we even gave him one of our traditional bologna sandwiches.
Robert passed away Sunday, Feb. 15, at age 98. His granddaughter, Andrea, sent us a message Monday to let us know of his passing. In her message, she said: “Since (Robert’s visit), my grandfather has shared the experience of your hospitality as one of his life’s greatest moments.”
In truth, we were the ones humbled by Robert Butz. We were humbled that he made an 800-mile trip at age 94 to present us with our founder’s horn. We are humbled by the fact that his family included Beacon Hose as a recipient for his memorial contributions, and that his obituary photo is one taken in our firehouse.
We will remember Robert Butz, among all of our departed members, in a moment of silence before our next monthly meeting.
As Beacon Hose Chief Jim Trzaski says, being members of Beacon Hose means we’re “friends for life.” The Butz family truly illustrates that ideal.
For more on Robert Butz’s life and his journey back to Beacon Hose, we invite you to visit these links.