Oltmann Family Honored

The Oltmann family was honored at the Union Ambulance District’s 50th anniversary celebration Saturday, Sept. 21. The Oltmann family provided ambulance service for the Union area prior to the creation of Union Ambulance. Once the district got started, the Oltmann family donated two vehicles and equipment to get the new group up and running. A plaque was presented to Keith Oltmann, center. A similar plaque will hang in the ambulance building. Also pictured are founding ambulance members Don Wilmesher, left, and Gene Wissmann, right.  Missourian Photo/Joe Barker.

Fifty years after its official start, past and present members of the Union Ambulance District gathered for a celebration this past weekend.

The Union Ambulance District, then called the Union Community Ambulance Service, officially began July 1, 1969. To mark the 50th anniversary, current members of the ambulance service opened the doors of its facility to the public and past members Saturday afternoon.

The bay, normally filled with ambulances ready to make calls, was instead packed with people. Stories were shared about the old days.

After an hour of mingling, a ceremony to mark the anniversary began. Union police Capt./Assistant Chief Rick Neace kicked the event off with an invocation and a poem praising the work of the EMS professionals.

Following Neace was Ray Pracht, district board of director chairman. Pracht took a moment to recognize the two original members of the ambulance district in attendance.

Don Wilmeseher and Gene Wissmann were saluted for their hand in starting the current incarnation of the ambulance service for Union. The other five original members were Leroy Strubberg, Gene Crews, Dave Schink, Pat Nappier and Bob Mittler.

Pracht also thanked representatives from other area ambulance districts, Police Chief Andrew Park, Mayor Rod Tappe and Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson for attending the event. 

“Fifty years — that’s just a big milestone for Union ambulance,” Pracht said. “It’s just huge.”

Pracht ended his speech by thanking all the important people who made the district what it is today.

Current Chief/Administrator Michelle Mayer then spoke about what an honor it was to be part of this celebration. Mayer, who took over from Ken Koch earlier this year, said she’s thrilled to work for the district.

“It’s very exciting for me to be here for this 50th year celebration and to actually meet some of these guys who formed the district and to hear the stories firsthand” she said. “It’s very important to always remember where we started.”

Mayer introduced the current board and employees to the audience. She then turned the mic over to Wissmann, Tom Nuernberger and Jim Strubberg for a history lesson.

Wissmann, an original founder, talked about the formation of the district. Thanks to changes in legislation, the Oltmann family of Union knew it could no longer provide ambulance service.

The Oltmanns had been providing service to the Union area since at least 1928, Nurenberger said. Things began to change in the late 1960s.

A federal lawsuit was won in 1969 that required ambulance workers to be paid a minimum wage while on call. At the same time, training standards were increasing.

Small ambulance companies announced they were winding down and the district was formed. The district got a head start when the Oltmann family donated a 1963 Cadillac, a 1966 Ford station wagon and equipment to the new operation.

Keith Oltmann was presented a certificate of appreciation for his family’s contributions to the ambulance service prior to the district’s creation and for their help getting the new regime off the ground. A similar plaque will hang in the ambulance headquarters.

Prior to the turnover, the Oltmann family was handling about 300 calls annually. Now, calls are in the thousands — an average of around nine per day in 2018.

The ambulance headquarters have moved, equipment has changed and so have the qualifications. No longer just a volunteer operation, the current district has three full-time crews working 24 hours a day.

The district has a budget in the millions compared to one in the tens of thousands when things started.

The ceremony Saturday ended with closing remarks by Mayer. She once again thanked the crowd for attending and spoke about the significance of 50 years in service.

Following the ceremony, older members gathered for a photo and continued the reminiscing.