50 years later, family, friends gather for remembrance ceremony

Fifty years later, memories of the night Harold G. Schenk Jr. and William J. "Bo" Merringer lost their lives in Blacklick Creek remain fresh.

On June 23, more than 50 people, mostly family and friends, gathered for a remembrance ceremony at John F. Kennedy Park, 7232 E. Main St., near the site where the rain-swollen creek caught Schenk, 39, and Merringer, 29, with its rapid waters.

Joan Schenk Grundey, Schenk's daughter, who was 13 when he died, welcomed the attendees and spoke for several minutes, recounting memories of her father, which she called "distant and faded, and they are remembered only though the eyes of a child."

Merringer's widow, Mary Margaret Weltner, also spoke during the ceremony.

In the 1960s the waterway was a popular spot for fishing and wading, as well as ice skating in the winter.

On June 23, 1969, Eric Ashton, 10, and brothers Donald and Ronald Thompson, both 11, and David Thompson, 9, were wading in the creek when Ashton and Ronald Thompson slipped under the dam and were in danger, according to obituaries and accounts compiled by the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society.

Schenk and another man, Dave T. White, were nearest to the creek, on a baseball field at the park. Merringer's house at 1247 Lancaster Ave., was along the east side of the creek. About 100 yards away from the field, the boys' cries for help could be heard, said Steve Schenk, now 64 and the oldest of Harold Schenk's four children.

"It was a Monday night. My dad and Dave White were coaches on the baseball teams -- they each had a son on a team -- so the whole family went to the ballpark. I was actually umpiring that night on a different diamond," Steve Schenk said. "It was an unusual situation -- you could walk across the dam if the water wasn't high, but that night It was swirling underneath.

"By the time I was there, my dad was going into the water. Bo Merringer went in from the east side of the creek, and my dad went in from the west side, but they came out opposite sides."

All four boys were pulled from the water and were OK. But Merringer and Schenk were pronounced dead at the scene.

White, then 45, was the last person pulled from the creek and was unconscious. John Merringer, Bo's younger brother, was credited with saving White's life.

A Reynoldsburg volunteer firefighter from 1965 to 1970, John Merringer, now 74, was on French Run Drive when he heard the fire alarm. He said he rushed to the creek with other volunteer firefighters and had no way of knowing his brother was among those in trouble.

Shortly before the drownings, the nearby Whitehall fire department had sponsored a training on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he said.

"That's all we had then was volunteers -- they blew the sirens and the first three went on the squad and the rest went on the fire truck. When we got there, Mr. Schenk and Bo were already out (of the creek). Dave White was in the middle of the dam and the undertow was taking him back and forth. I grew up on this creek and knowing the creek like I did, I knew where he was going to come up," John Merringer said. "We had just had a class on mouth-to-mouth (resuscitation), and it was really helpful. I just did what I had to do."

John Merringer said his brother was such a good plasterer that he received a $5,000 bonus at Christmastime.

"That's how hard of a worker he was," he said. "He was awful strong. He just threw those kids up on the bank of the creek. That's just the way we were brought up; there were seven of us, and we were taught to help each other. It's not something he would have run from -- that's not how we were raised. It was a tragic, tragic accident. I was just glad that I was behind the fire house, and we got down there so quickly. It happened pretty fast."

The dam was removed after the drownings. Merringer and Schenk avenues, west of Blacklick Creek, were named in the men's honor, the historical society said. The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in 1970 awarded medals for heroism and bravery to White and posthumously to Merringer and Schenk. The award recognizes civilians who risk their life to save others and typically is not awarded to first responders.

"There's not a week that goes by that I don't think about it or remember it," Steve Schenk said. "There's a lot of heroes out there, given the opportunity. They were playing a ballgame that was closest to the creek; it's just the Lord working circumstances out and you don't understand it."