FORT LORAMIE — Sunday was a bittersweet day for Shirley Elsass, of Botkins.
Elsass and her family listened and watched as a portion of state Route 705 — between Sawmill and Eilerman roads — was renamed and dedicated in memory of her brother, Michael J. Aselage, during a ceremony attended by more than 125 people. The portion of the road is now the Michael J. Aselage Memorial Highway.
“This was bittersweet,” Elsass said after the ceremony, which included unveiling the new road sign. “It’s a wonderful honor but it’s also a little sad to think about what we are here for.”
Michael J. Aselage, 24, son of Bernard and Elizabeth Aselage, was a probationary firefighter with the Fort Loramie Community Fire Company at the time of his death on April 2, 1975. He died while going to direct traffic away from a downed electric wire. The wire touched the vehicle he was in and he was electrocuted.
The son of Bernard and Elizabeth “Betty” Aselage, he was a graduate of Fort Loramie High School and served four years in the U.S. Coast Guard before coming back home to Fort Loramie. He joined the fire department on Oct. 7, 1974, following in his dad’s footsteps.
“He was an easy-going fun-loving guy,” said Elsass. “He loved hanging out with his friends and having a good time.”
Elsass said she thinks about what her life would be like today if her brother hadn’t been killed.
“I look at my grandchildren and I know he would have loved playing with them,” said Elsass. “And I know he would have had some of his own. He loved children.”
Her husband, Pat, was touched by the ceremony. He started dating Shirley Aselage six months after her brother was killed.
“This was a special day, especially for Shirley,” said Pat Elsass.
Shirley Elsass said the turnout for the dedication surprised her as she saw friends, family and firefighters in the audience.
Frank Conway, retired chief of the Fire Prevention Bureau and former superintendent of the Ohio Fire Academy, represented the Ohio State Fire Marshal Office for the ceremony. Barbara Taylor, deputy district director, represented U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, who was unable to attend.
“We are honoring our fallen brother, Michael J. Aselage,” said Conway.
Conway posed the question to the audience — why do people become volunteers?
“Sometimes they do it to meet new friends,” said Conway. “They do it to help the less fortunate. Some are dedicated to volunteering 12 months a year. Others, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, start feeling blessed and have a need to volunteer. They have the best intentions and get through Christmas and January but around Valentine’s Day, they stop volunteering.
“Others want to make a difference in the lives of others,” said Conway. “That’s the category Michael Aselage falls in. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was following his dad’s footsteps into firefighting. Then in April 1975, his concern was for others who wouldn’t see the downed power line.”
If Aselage was alive today, said Conway, he would have gone through hours and hours of training to help others as a firefighter. He would learn about building construction and how a fire will act in it.
“When I started and we were taught about flash overs, we were told it would happen in 10 minutes,” said Conway. “Today, it takes 2 minutes or less for a flash over to occur.”
Aselage would also have learned about ventilation, hose and nozzle techniques, training for farm accidents and focusing on grain bin rescues. And cancer and firefighters is a concern today as they have to keep their turnout gear clean after each fire or accident they go to.
Auto rescue, including dash roll-ups, removing the hood, dealing with airbags and the new hybrid technology, is also part of the training.
“In 1975, Michael was trying to make a difference,” said Conway. “He was trying to make a difference. He is a hero because of his actions.”
Each firefighter on the Fort Loramie Volunteer Fire Department in 1975, experienced the loss of a “brother” just like his sister did.
“Each of you feel the loss of losing a family member,” said Conway. “Each gentleman and woman here in uniform are my brothers and sisters.”
Conway said everyone was present Sunday to reflect on Aselage’s life — he was following in his father’s footsteps; to honor him — the dedication of the highway to his community and county; and to remember — the good times, a firefighter, a brother and a neighbor.
“We pause and honor him today,” said Conway. “He was blessed with a servant’s hand and heart. He looked around to see who needs help and he responded to God’s call.”
Taylor read a resolution that Jordan read on the House floor on April 18, 2018, which talked about Aselage, his sacrifice and the highway dedication. The resolution is now part of the Congressional record and will be archived in the Congressional Library.
Taylor also presented Elsass with an American flag which flew above the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 23, 2018.
After Elsass pulled the covering off the new highway sign, two friends of her brother placed flags on the memorial. Chuck Ernst, of Fort Loramie, and Bill Meinerding, of Lakeview, were both classmates of Aselage.
“He was a classmate and a friend,” said Ernst. “It’s really nice that he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. This is a happy day for the community and for him.”
Ernst said Aselage was a 25-year-old man who was caring and willing to do anything for anybody.
“Today was a fond remembrance of a good friend,” said Meinerding. “He and I built the van together he was driving the night he died. I was waiting to meet him at a local restaurant. We always met on Wednesdays to have a few talks together.
Meinerding said Aselage always liked a really good joke and having a good time.
“He was always ready to help people,” said Meinerding.
Shelby County Commissioner Bob Guillozet said Sunday’s dedication was a special for him for two reasons: Aselage is Guillozet’s wife’s cousin and Guillozet is a retired firefighter.
“this was a great way to honor and remember his sacrifice,” said Guillozet. “I was still in high school when it happened but I remember the incident.”
Retired Fort Loramie Firefighter Tony Winner was the master of ceremony for the dedication. Pastor Kris Geise, Houston Congregational Christian Church, said the invocation and final blessing. Members of the Fort Loramie High School chorus performed the National Anthem and “God Bless America.”
State Sen. Matt Huffman and state Rep. Keith Faber were also unable to attend.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.