- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Back in his younger days, everybody knew where you could find Chester Bemiss—at the fire department.
“They were a very close-knit group back in the seventies and eighties,” said Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger. “It was not unusual to see them get off work, go home, get a bite to eat and spend some time with their families, and then head back to the firehouse. They were ready to roll at a moment’s notice. That bunch, Chester and Baby [Chester’s brother, Eugene, who has a baseball field named after him at Clear Creek Park] and Bill McClain, the volunteerism they provided was just tremendous.”
Bemis passed away on Sept. 27 in Zephyrhills, Fla., and he is survived by his wife, Leota Roberts Bemiss and two stepsons.
Born in Greenville, Ind., on Nov. 27, 1934, Bemiss moved with his parents, to Shelbyville at a young age.
Shelby County Fire Chief Bobby Cowherd said he thinks most people in the community will remember Bemiss most for his dedication to the local fire department and for his role in the business community, as proprietor of Bemiss General Store, which he owned and operated for many years during the 1970s and 80s in Simpsonville.
“He was my good friend, and I spoke at his funeral,” Cowherd said. “He was one of the founding members of the department, back in 1966; he was the chief a couple of times in his career.”
Cowherd said Bemiss was the chief and the president of the Shelby County Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., as well as president of the Shelby County Firefighters Association.
He served in the Army during the Korean War, and retired after 20 years from the Shelby County Volunteer Fire Department as chief. He was president of the Avion Recreational Vehicle Club Association and was a Master Mason in Solomon’s Lodge No. 5 in Shelbyville.
His sister-in-law, Joanne Bemiss of Shelbyville, describes him as “very outgoing and very caring.”
“He was just an all-around good guy,” she said. “I was married to his brother, Eugene. They’re all gone now; Eugene, Tommy [the former owner of Briggs-Bemis clothing store for men in Shelbyville] and Chester; he was the last one left.”
Bemiss was also preceded in death by his first wife, Frances, and a son, David.
Joanne Bemiss said that in addition to his love for the fire department, her brother-in-law had another passion as well.
“He was an avid camper,” she said. “He and his wife traveled a lot, and they went everywhere.”
That passion for traveling around the country in his recreational vehicle was how Bemiss ended up moving to Florida, Cowherd said.
“When he got to retirement age, he started going down there in the winter and coming back in the spring, and eventually, he just bought a place down there,” he said.
But Bemiss never forgot his hometown and came back often to visit, Cowherd said. And that visit always included a stop-over at the fire station to reminisce about old times.
“He would always stop by and talk whenever he was in town,” he said.
It was just that kind of camaraderie that built the fire department from the ground up, Rothenburger said.
“They laid the foundation and the blue print for fire services in Shelby County,” he said. “They were the trend-setters, back in the early years, on up into the eighties. They provided so much leadership for the fire service. They worked day and night at that volunteer fire department to make it what it is today. They put in a lot of blood and sweat, and they rolled up their sleeves and figured out a way to get it done.”
That same kind of dedication spilled over to his business in Simpsonville, Rothenburger said.
“His store in Simpsonville, it was a landmark stop-over place to grab some lunch and catch up on the news. And Chester, he always visited with you [customers]. He was fun loving, outgoing; never met a stranger.”