EATON — Two former Shelby County residents will be inducted into the Sara Swartsel Hall of Honor by the Preble County Historical Society (PCHS). Paul E. and Ruth (Phelps) Fitzwater are members of the ninth membership class to be inducted into the hall.
Inductees must be deceased and have lived in Preble County at some point in their lives; further, they must meet one or more of the following requirements: have been outstanding in achievement in agriculture, arts, professions, politics, public service, education, or sports; or have a reputation that brings honor to the county, or personal commitment and service to the county; or had a lasting impact on the county.
The 2019 inductees and their families will be honored with the dedication of plaques in their honor at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 7, 2019, at the Old Fashioned Independence Day Celebration at the Preble County Historical Center and The Amphitheater at 7693 Swartsel Road, Eaton.
Paul Fitzwater was born in West Manchester and graduated from Monroe Central High School in 1931 and Miami University in 1935 with a bachelor’s degree in music. His first jobs as high school band director were in Newton Falls, Sabina, Washington Court House, Piqua, Eaton (1946-47), and finally Sidney where he taught for 35 years. He started in Sidney as high school band director and taught elementary instrumental music, saying that he had to learn to play every instrument so that he could get young students started on whatever musical instrument they wanted to learn! He became music supervisor for the entire city school system but retained director responsibilities for the high school orchestra and dance band. His high school orchestras frequently earned the highest rating of superior at state competitions.
Ruth Phelps Fitzwater was born in St. Paris but grew up in Sabina, where she graduated from high school in 1934. She graduated from Wilmington College in 1938 where she majored in music education and was a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma education honorary. She returned to Sabina to teach music in the local schools and married Paul Fitzwater in 1939. In 1955 Ruth returned to teaching elementary vocal music in the Sidney schools. She provided opportunities for students to perform in musical plays and to get their first experiences in performing on stage as well as in the classroom. She directed an annual concert of all the fifth and sixth graders at the high school with typically over 500 students performing. Ruth directed the junior and youth choirs in sacred vocal music at the First United Methodist Church. She also coordinated special seasonal concerts with all four church choirs and guest vocalists and instrumentalists.
When Paul retired to Preble County, he became lay leader of the Ware’s Chapel United Methodist Church and continued his membership in Rotary, leading the singing as he had for every Rotary club where he was a member! In 1993 Paul was named a Paul Harris Fellow from the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. He served as director of the Preble County Historical Society for a short time and was the first director of the Preble County Bureau of Support. He volunteered as Weather Observer for the National Weather Service for 23 years, was active in the Preble County Farm Bureau, and disc jockeyed at WKBV Radio.
Ruth‘s greatest contribution to Preble County was at her beloved Ware’s Chapel United Methodist Church. She played piano twice a month, often with her dear friend Louise Stockslager who played the organ. She directed the choir(s) and was greatly involved in United Methodist Women, assisting with meeting planning, musical accompaniment to singing, and always working at their events. She received Special Mission Recognition by United Methodist Women in November 1998. Throughout her life, Ruth maintained her membership in the Order of the Eastern Star.
Paul’s musical leadership is legendary in the Sidney Public Schools. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Honor in 2001. The recognition identified him as an inspiring music educator, professional dance band director, director of the expansion of the vocal and instrumental music department from two to eight professional staff members, and community leader. In 1955 the high school band went to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., and won first place in the competition. Paul oversaw the recording and distribution of two records featuring the marching band’s halftime shows as well as the high chorus, orchestra, and concert band. Those albums recently have been re-mastered into digital recordings and sold as fundraisers for the current music program.
Paul and Ruth established an eight-piece professional dance band known as “The Keynotes” and played throughout West-Central Ohio in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Paul played tenor saxophone and clarinet and Ruth played piano. Together they managed the band, found the gigs, and presented big band and swing music for thousands of dancers and music lovers!
Paul and Ruth were held in high regard by their former students. Letters from those students shared their life successes with Paul and Ruth (known fondly as Mr. and Mrs. Fitz) and their appreciation for the role that music played in their lives. Indeed Paul and Ruth were amongst those rare teachers who inspire students, build a program, sustain a program, and retire with the love and respect of students and peers.
Paul and Ruth had four children, Jane Fitzwater Parke, Kingwood Texas, Julie Fitzwater Preuninger, Asheville North Carolina, Jean Fitzwater Bussell, Monroe Township/Preble County, and John Phelps Fitzwater (deceased).
Paul passed away in 2007, while Ruth passed away in 2004.
Also being inducted into the hall are Kenneth J. Garber and William R. Goodheart Jr.