Iron Man Of The Month

of Dayton Daily News And Radio's Joe's Journel

| September/October 1971


Every now and then, but quite rarely, a man struts across the stage of life, changing all he comes in contact with. And, after his passing, things aren't the same again.

Some called him, 'The Editor', others, 'The Preacher', or 'The Reverend still others preferred 'Uncle 'But by far the most knew him as 'Elmer'. And 'Elmer' he was to most of us just plain 'Elmer'. For, unlike the brotherhood of the holy ordainedmen of the cloth who strut in their priestly robes to the Reverend Elmer Ritzman farm overalls were the holiest of garb. A firebox poker was his 'sheperd's stave' for the leading of his flock. He never preached on the unquenchable fires of hell, for to him the hot coals and roaring flames inside an engine firebox were the greatest sermons of all. With his eye on the steam gauge, and his hand on the throttle, his pulpit was the swaying deck of a steam engine at workhis congregation the teeming thousands that came to 'tend the threshermen's reunions which his faith nurtured from humble beginnings by his praying and preaching. Though the Reverend Elmer Ritzman may once have been ordained of God a Methodist pastor, to serve his village and town, the hand of the Lord led him into vaster fields to pasture flocks numbered among the stars. All were blessed by his presence and all mourn at his passing.

To those who have held onto the illusion that all preachers are a separate breedstuffed shirts, aloof and uninteresting let me say they have just never met the Reverend Ritzman. Somehow they have been denied one of life's richest experiences sitting beside him, elbow to elbow, sharing his rich loquations on every day philosophy, delicately interwoven with Divine Theology. To him the hard facts of life were never divorced from the gentle humor of the Pennsylvania-Dutch idiom. Though his sermons were without jokes, one could often detect sermons in his jokes. And whenever it came to the telling of jokes, Elmer always had a big bagful from which to draw and select, depending on whether his listening audience, happening to be within ear-shot, demanded the feminine or masculine touch.

It was at the National Threshers Reunion, held on the Blaker Farm at Alvordton, Ohio, back in '48, that I first met the Reverend Elmer Ritzman or Elmer. He had invited me earlier, by letter, to come and 'learn a little about steam engines' which I did (a little). And, of course, the first person I sought out on the crowded, busy grounds, as I made my way amongst the sweating men and steaming engines, was Elmer who had pitched his little tent just over by LeRoy Blaker's steam engine workshop and far enough away from the maddening throng to out-shout the melee and hawk his little FARM ALBUM pamphlet across a thin and wobbly board which served both as counter and something to lean on.

'Are you Reverend Ritzman?' I yelled his hands reaching for pencil and subscription pad in the hopes I was a customer.