WINONA LAKE — “His blood was probably fire engine red.”
The words of someone who knew Winona Lake Fire Chief Mitch Titus quite well were read aloud by local Pastor Denny Wilson during the poignant, somber, yet uplifting memorial service Thursday, May 9, at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
Hundreds of people from throughout the community, as well as a noteworthy show of blue, white and brown uniforms representing fellow emergency services personnel, attended the memorial for Titus, 47, who died on Sunday, May 5.
TItus was killed as a result of a work-related accident while working for G&G Hauling in Warsaw on Friday, May 3. He died as a result of his injuries Sunday in a Fort Wayne hospital.
Titus was Winona Lake’s fire chief for more than 10 of the department’s 105 years in existence and was named firefighter of the year last year at the 72nd Annual Kosciusko County Fire Association Fish Fry.
“The people closest to a person, paying their honor to that person, have the most important words to say,” said Wilson.
“As Mitch’s work community, our hearts are filled with incredible sorrow,” said Kosciusko County Commissioner and president of G&G Hauling & Excavating Cary Groninger. “We lost a valuable member of our team. This is a sorrow that is both deep and personal.”
Groninger said Titus joined his company in 1995 and “he impacted the lives of all his co-workers in many ways.”
Groninger, referring to The Bible, compared Titus to the storied Good Samaritan. Fighting hard to compose himself against welling emotions, Groninger said “Mitch would do anything for anyone who was in need. Mitch has left a big void in the G&G community. To Jody and the children and the rest of the family, our hearts and prayers go out to you in this most difficult time.”
Pastor Jeff Pfeifer, co-officiator of the service, said “He’s made such a great impact on those who knew him.” Pfeifer continued by commenting on Titus’s valor as a firefighter, as well as his spirituality. “In many cases, he would advance toward the danger. But this is not the end of Mitch Titus, this is just the beginning.”
Titus’ sister, Amber Gelbaugh, told the attendees of her close relationship with her brother and paid tribute by accentuating some the lighter moments of their lives as siblings. She said he was passionate about outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing and that he loved horses, having showed and won at the Indiana State Fair during his time in 4-H.
Gelbaugh also commented on the stark difference between the brother and sister, illustrating a quiet calm that was evident during Titus’ participation as fire chief during town council meetings.
“Mitch and I were complete opposites,” Gelbaugh said. “He was a country boy and I was a city girl. He was a man of little words and I like to talk. Mitch taught me how to shoot a .22, use a machete and even taught me how to ride a horse.”
But the story that carried the most significance and prompted the most chuckles was her tale of a young boy talking his sister into letting him give her “Scotch tape fingernails.”
“He then proceeded to tell me that he was going to light them on fire and give me fingernails of fire. As he lit them, my fingernails quickly caught fire and burned my fingers and I had to quickly put them out in the toilet.”
Gelbaugh told the attendees that her brother swore her to secrecy, but she thought there was a prophetic element to the event. “Maybe this was the beginning of his passion for being a fireman.”
Following the service, a processional of hundreds of cars, fire trucks, emergency vehicles and G&G Hauling & Excavating vehicles left the venue and headed across town to Warsaw’s Oakwood Cemetery. At the cemetery, a pair of boom trucks held an American Flag in an arch that the funeral processional drove under en route to the gravesite.