DESLOGE – A Desloge man who passed away Saturday is being remembered by the community for his more than 60 years of service to the city’s fire department, as well as the care and concern he showed for his fellow firefighters.
James “Jim” Gremminger, 81, was a member of the Desloge Fire Department for 63 years and over the years served as lieutenant, secretary, captain and fire chief.
Gremminger was a patriotic man who attempted to enlist in the military, but was rejected due to a heart condition. Herb Gremminger, a Desloge fireman, suggested his downcast nephew join the fire department as an alternate form of service.
It was a life-changing decision the young man never regretted as he paved the way for others to follow his outstanding example as a dedicated firefighter.
“Jim was just always there for any of the younger firefighters,” Chris Spradling said. “Whether you were doing right or wrong, he was one guy who would tell you if you were messing up or if you were on the right path. He was a great guy.”
Gremminger’s son Larry, who serves as current Desloge fire chief, said his father often recalled his early days of serving on the department.
“Dad spoke volumes about the old days and Russ Turley, Lawrence Sago, and “Spud” Allers as his mentors, along with past chief officers Bob Bryan and Harold Ketcherside,” he said. “Dad was one of the old smoke eaters in the days before the department had SCBA or air packs.”
Desloge Deputy Chief Keith Serini said, “I liked to sit and listen to Jim tell the old stories about firefighting. I enjoyed him telling the stories but I also enjoyed watching him tell the stories. He was a guy who loved what he did.”
It was nearly 60 years ago that friend and fellow firefighter Jim Hahn first met Gremminger.
“I watched Jim fight a fire on the old Fifth Street in Desloge in 1957 when I was 10 years old,” he said. “He inspired me to join the fire department just by his actions that day. In that era you didn’t have turnout gear. You showed up in either your dress clothes or work clothes to fight a fire. That inspired me to see somebody that dedicated to service.”
Gremminger was most certainly a dedicated man. He was still on the inactive roster as a safety officer when he died. His designated service number, 3321, was issued by former chief J.D. Hodge and was never worn by another man in the department.
“His fellow firefighters said it just wouldn’t be right to issue it again,” Larry said.
As far as supporting the community, Chris Spradling said, “Jim was always proud of his kids, being a member of the fire department and being a part of the community of Desloge.”
Gremminger was involved with the civil defense “police and rescue” unit, the Ozark Fire Fighters Association, the Mineral Area Elks, the Boy Scouts of America and a volunteer for several civic organizations. He delivered food baskets to veterans and helped out with Christmas in the Park.
He was a General Motors retiree and a member of the United Auto Workers (UAW).
Most of all, Gremminger was a man who was dedicated to his wife, “Kay,” and their four children — Larry, Chris, Alan and Judy (Gremminger) Hutchison.
His family says the influence he had on their lives will never be forgotten.
“I can remember being in the fire trucks as early as two years old and dad lived to see the fourth generation of the family become involved in the department,” Larry said. “My brothers, Alan and Chris — along with myself and Chris’ daughter, Erin — have all served or are serving. And his grandson, Evan, has been involved with the Fire Explorers.
“My most prized gift ever from dad is the gold chief’s badge he gave me just after I became chief. The department has only had seven fire chiefs in its history and only myself, Ken Hawkins and J.D. Hodge remain.”
While Gremminger had plenty of reasons to be proud of his many accomplishments, there was one which possibly gave him the most satisfaction.
“Dad was very proud of the fact that he was sober for over the last 20 years of his life and he spent those years doing everything he could to be with his family,” Larry said.
According to Assistant Chief Jim Hawkins, Gremminger’s family wasn’t the only one who noticed the difference in his life.
“Over the last 20 years or so he changed a lot,” Hawkins said. “Jim got a lot more of my respect after he got sober. He was a different guy. He was like all of us — Jim had his goods and his bads — but once he got sober he was a great guy to be around and work with.”
“Whether you were doing right or wrong, he was one guy who would tell you if you were messing up or if you were on the right path.” — Chris Spradling, firefighter
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or email@example.com