Yorkana, Lower Windsor community honor life of 'unofficial mayor' Rod Weitkamp
Rod Weitkamp spent his life helping and caring for others, volunteering for 36 years in his community and choosing not to judge people for missteps, according to two of the people who knew him best — his daughter and the man who replaced him as Yorkana's fire chief.
"He is so ingrained in this community and so interwoven with everything," said Chief Scott Frederick of Yorkana Community Volunteer Fire Co. "He was the unofficial mayor of Lower Windsor Township."
Weitkamp, 55, died Nov. 23 of medical complications related to cancer, according to daughter Emily Weitkamp. He was Yorkana's longtime fire chief and was deputy fire chief at the time of his death.
"I feel so unbelievably fortunate that I was able to call him my father, and that he raised me," the 23-year-old said. "I was always a daddy's girl. … My dad was my hero."
Rod Weitkamp's compassion and love reached far beyond his own family, according to Frederick, who was Weitkamp's close friend since childhood, fellow firefighter and co-worker at Republic Services Modern Landfill.
"He had such a heart — the heart of a giant," the chief said. "There's not too many people (in the area) who don't know who Rod Weitkamp is."
Memorial procession: On Saturday, area firefighters, other first responders and members of the community honored Weitkamp's memory with a procession of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles that drove through Lower Windsor Township and Yorkana, ending at the fire company's new station house at 5410 Mount Pisgah Road.
They drove past Yorkana Game & Gun Club, where he was a member, and the landfill, where he worked for many years, according to Frederick. Modern Landfill donated gear racks to the new firehouse in honor of Weitkamp.
After the procession, the fire company dedicated its new station in Weitkamp's memory because he spent three decades trying to upgrade the company's firehouse, Frederick said, adding he's grateful Weitkamp lived long enough to see the project to fruition — and to visit his fellow firefighters one last time.
"Rod got to sit in the firehouse the Friday before he passed away. … He thanked everybody for what they did to get the building," the chief said. "That was the last time we really saw him."
For Yorkana's volunteer firefighters, the thought of being without Weitkamp as a leader is difficult, according to Frederick.
'Rod was the glue': Weitkamp joined the company on Oct. 22, 1984, and spent more than a decade as its chief, holding that position twice, Frederick said. Weitkamp also served in positions including company president, lieutenant, station engineer and junior adviser.
"Rod was the glue that stuck everything together," the chief said. "People can say all they want that everyone's replaceable. … I don't know about this one, though. There's a lot of us looking around and asking if he is replaceable."
It was easy for people to confide in Weitkamp.
"You never got judged by him," Frederick said. "He had nothing bad to say about anybody."
He was always ready with a joke or wisecrack to lighten up the moment, and as a rule gave people the benefit of the doubt and, when needed, a second chance, according to those who love him.
Returning the love: Weitkamp did so much for others that his firefighting family wanted to return that love as their former chief's heath faded, Frederick said.
They mowed his lawn, stacked wood outside his home for the winter, serviced his vehicles and visited him daily.
"I don't think we left him alone for a minute," Frederick said. "He got emotional at the end when everyone did things for him. … He didn’t think that he deserved it."
Since Weitkamp's death, Yorkana's firefighters have bonded in grief and purpose, Frederick said, and even members who have been absent for years have come around again.
The community has so far donated more than $5,000 to the fire company in response to Weitkamp's death, he said.
"We're probably closer now than we've ever been," Frederick said. "Two weeks after his death he's still bringing people together. I hope that legacy will live on forever."
Great dad, outdoorsman: Weitkamp's commitment to his community didn't interfere with him being an attentive, loving father, according to his daughter.
"He was very supportive and very loving. He always tried to make sure I was happy," said Emily Weitkamp.
He took her along with him everywhere he went, she said, and she would wait up for him when he was called to fires late at night.
His constant companion was his beloved dog Ralf, she said.
Weitkamp loved to hunt, ride his motorcycles and four-wheelers and take part in rattlesnake roundups, according to his daughter.
Hunting camp: He also loved regularly spending time at his hunting camp in Sinnemahoning, Cameron County, she said. He named it, fittingly, The Weitkamp.
"He planned on moving up there when he retired," Emily Weitkamp said.
This is the first year in memory that he missed going to camp for bear season, she said.
Emily Weitkamp said she's been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community in response to her dad's death and said she can feel his love through them.
"So many people told me if I ever need anything, they're there for me and they'd love to help me like Dad helped them," she said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.