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Remembering the chief: Don Bloedorn's legacy painted in humor, caring

An honor guard of Wautosa firefighters stands with the casket of former fire chief Don Bloedorn at the Schmidt and Bartelt funeral home on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. Ernie Mastroianni photo.

An honor guard of Wautosa firefighters stands with the casket of former fire chief Don Bloedorn at the Schmidt and Bartelt funeral home on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. Ernie Mastroianni photo. Photo By ERNIE MASTROIANNI

Sept. 12, 2012

Two dozen firefighters in dress uniforms, members of American Legion Post No. 449, and dozens of friends, family members and colleagues accompanied an antique fire truck bearing the body of former Fire Chief Don Bloedorn to Pinelawn Memorial Park for burial Monday.

There was a 21-gun salute for the former Marine, the playing of taps, a folding and presentation of the flag to his widow, and the ringing of a bell six times symbolizing the "last alarm of our fallen," as one firefighter said.

Bloedorn died Sept. 5 at the age of 79. He served 33 years with the Wauwatosa Fire Department, including a decade as chief, before retiring in 1989.

"He came up through the ranks, and he was well-liked throughout his career, and when he took over as chief and was chief for 10 years, you know, he was the same guy - a practical joker - and that didn't change," said Michael Anton, who was hired by Bloedorn in 1979. "His leadership style was one that he had a really good ability to communicate and maintain a good relationship with not only the rank-and-file members of the department, as well as with the … people in the political positions up at City Hall."

Good humor and good leadership characterized his service, colleagues said.

"He wanted to be a fireman from when he was little," said his daughter, Leigh-Anne.

Anton remembers Bloedorn ribbing him about his mustache, calling him a "good-looking guy" who shouldn't cover up his face, and then, when Anton shaved it off, saying "My God, what did you do? Why did you cut off your mustache?"

"I was on when he came on, and he was chief when I retired," said former firefighter Don Larson, who joined Bloedorn on the force in the mid-1950s. "He was energetic, liked to joke around."

Grandson Andrew Tortorice remembers the unique passion of his grandfather.

"He used to come once a year - I live in Minneapolis, Minn. - and he used to own a couple of limousines, and he used come over to my dad's house … and kind of made us seem like we were living the good life for a little while. He'd pick us up in a limousine and take us around town, take us out to restaurants and buy what seemed to be whatever we wanted," Tortorice said.

"You know, whenever he was around, it just seemed like he wanted to be taking care of you. I love him and I miss him very much."

Bloedorn owned a series of limousines.

"Very, very nice ones," Tortorice said. "It was a pleasure of his. At one time he thought about maybe starting his own limousine company."

Katie Bloedorn, another grandchild, said, "He was awesome.

"He's been such a big figure of the community that that always inspired me."

He was "social, had so many friends, always had a great sense of humor, and we did so much together, you know, whether it was the zoo, or fishing, or doing things with the community," she said. "I remember when he was on the Fire Department, and I got on the Fire Department for a little while doing some exploring activities in a volunteer program.

"He has such a good legacy."

The Rev. Don Koehn, formerly of Calvary Memorial Church of Wauwatosa, and now of First Presbyterian Church in Richfield, spoke at the burial.

"I thought as we come here, think for a moment of his 33 years of helping people through disaster," he said.

"He was a good friend of mine, a good friend as well as being a great member of all my churches," he said.

Bloedorn is survived by his wife, Arlaine; children Nick (Kathryn) Tortorice and Leigh-Anne Bloedorn; sister Carol (Jerry) Baldus; and grandchildren Nicholas and Joshua, Katie Bloedorn and Andrew Tortorice and other relatives and friends.

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