Fayette County lost a dedicated resident over the weekend who committed his life to serving the community in many capacities.
Ronald Wilkins Burke (aka Ron, Ronnie, Burke, Burkie and more) was born on Dec. 22, 1944 in Fayette County to Charles “Charlie” and Urcell Wilkins Burke. According to his obituary, he was a 1962 graduate of Bloomingburg High School and attended The Ohio State University where he studied agriculture. Ron was a graduate of Southern State Community College where he studied law enforcement, and Hondros College where he studied real estate.
Burke passed away Saturday at the age of 73 following a battle with cancer.
Ron and his brother, Don, began their careers as dairy farmers in Fayette County. In 1969, he began serving the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, and left full-time employment and become an auxiliary while he worked on his cattle farm and real estate business. According to Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, Burke was a non-certified employee and worked in the jail and radio for many years. After Stanforth was named sheriff, Burke returned and became a certified peace officer in 1998.
“We deployed him then on court services,” Stanforth said. “His basic responsibility was prisoner transport. For the last 20 years he has been transporting our inmates from Fayette County to wherever they needed to go, be that other jails or various state facilities. He had a lot of contact with many people, he was often the last person they would see before they went to prison. He always treated everyone fairly and was a gentlemen at all times, a true professional who handled himself well. Ron was a friend to everyone here and worked well with the corrections staff, he did that work for many years so he knew what they were up against. He understood that. He was all-around a good guy. We are going to honor his service to Fayette County by making a funeral service befitting his dedication to the community and to show the respect this community has for him.”
Deputies with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office; Gene Ivers, Stephen Yeoman and Charlie Wise took time on Tuesday to share various memories of Burke with the Record-Herald. Ivers and Yeoman recollected the many years they hassled him at the Fayette County Fair, which was always a busy time for Burke. Ivers told a particular story when they gathered a few wood blocks, and set Burke’s cart on them with the help of a strong stranger who was afraid he would get busted by the cops.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry you are with the cops,’” Ivers said. “So we got the cart up on the blocks. It was just high enough so he couldn’t see them, and we waited for Burke and he just tries to take off and doesn’t go anywhere, the wheels just spun. We were back there laughing at him. We watched him rock a few times and just rocks the cart off the blocks and takes off. That was a yearly occurrence, we always had to mess with Ronnie during the fair and take his golf cart from him.”
“We are certainly going to miss Ron,” Wise said. “He is one of those guys you ask him to do something and you didn’t have to worry about it. You knew it was going to get done and done right. It just means so much you didn’t have to worry about it. Ronnie and I actually went to school together, he was just a couple years older than I was. We were both in the Miami Trace Marching Band and he played the bass drum. He was really good and got into that, and it was always a fun time. We both got involved in the sheriff’s office at about the same time, so we have always just been in contact since we were kids. Ron was just a special guy.”
Another aspect of his job with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office was his nearly daily trip to see Susan V. Dunn, Fayette County Treasurer, to help deliver the deposit. When he wasn’t traveling to drop inmates off, he always stopped by and helped the treasurer’s office staff.
“He was a fantastic guy, he is going to be missed,” Dunn said. “When he could make it down here, he came down here everyday and took us to the bank and helped to drop off the deposit. There were sometimes he missed, but during tax time we could always rely on him to take care of the money. I know his wife Mel, and to her and his family I want to say Ronnie was a great guy. Hold on to your memories because that will carry you through.”
Not only well-known in local law enforcement, Burke was also a prominent breeder, judge and showman in the dairy cattle industry. According to his application to the Board of Directors of the Fayette County Agriculture Society — which he joined in 2008 — he was an exhibitor of dairy cattle for over 30 years at many local, state and national shows; he was an accredited cattle judge and officiated at many local, state and national shows and expos throughout the midwest; held the record for being breeder/exhibitor of grand champion Holstein female at the Ohio State Fair for three straight years with two different animals; was a past president of the Ohio Purebred Dairy Cattle Association which had around 500 members; was the past vice president/secretary of the Ohio Holstein Association which had 2,000 members and a budget of $750,000; and was also a member of the National Dairy Shrine, among his many other agriculture-related endeavors.
On top of this he was also a Jim and Eddie Kirk Fair Supporter Award winner for the countless hours he and his wife Mel helped the local fairgrounds. Whether he was helping at the race track, planting flowers, running concession or ticket booths, helping kids with pedal pulls or 4-H projects, running the Fine Arts Building during the fair, or volunteering for off-season events, Burke was always asking how he could help. During the opening ceremony of the 139th-annual Fayette County Fair this year, Burke attended and accepted the award despite having struggled with health issues up to that point.
“I have known Ronnie for 45 or 50 years,” Fayette County Agricultural Society President Bob Schwartz said. “I first met Ronnie showing cattle at the county fairs while in 4-H. He did very well and when I say show, we didn’t always show our livestock. We worked for Dick and Dutch Lewis….we were employed for a summer or two working for them. We were just hired guns. Looking back, we got used a little bit, but we had a good time. When I moved up here I had him as a client when he had his dairy steer, and had the pleasure of knowing him as he served on the board. He was always ready to do what you asked of him, and was always the first at the food line. We want Mel to know that she will always be included in our family here at the Fayette County Fairgrounds. She will always have a place here, and Ronnie will be missed.”
A final, yet great representation of Burke’s character was a letter he made sure to take time and submit to the Record-Herald. The letter thanked the community for its participation in the 2018 Fayette County Fair despite Burke not being able to attend himself:
“I would like to take this opportunity to THANK everyone for entering projects at the 2018 Fayette County Fair,” Burke wrote in his final letter to the public. “Special thank you to Don Melvin and Doug Marine for being the directors to help me out. Also thank you to my superintendents, Dale Merritt, Karma Breedlove, Stacey Wilt, Heidi Jinks, Marlene Chilcote, and Judy Gentry. Thank you to my office partners, Faith Cottrill, Betty Russell, Helen Ruff and Katy Zink. I would like to give special recognition to the sponsors of the Open Class show for the Fine Arts Patchwork Gardens’ sponsors the Horticulture Department, home furnishings. Mr and Mrs.Hank Roszmann for the Best Peach Pie. Department R Farm Cottrill Seed Solutions, (Chris Cottrill) Alliance Ag LLC (Travis Kelley) and Miller Farms for Best of Show Cross Stitch, the Record-Herald sponsor for Best Color Photo that represents Fayette County. Thanks to our many judges, Diane Keltner, Brenda Keltner, Brandon Ellars, Jane Brock, Brian Moody and Jacob Wuebben. I would like to invite the county and extend an invitation to surrounding counties to make entries for the 2019 Fayette County Fair. Sincerely, Ron Burke Director of the Fayette County Agricultural Society.”
The funeral service for Burke will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Fayette County Fairgrounds Fine Arts Building in Washington C.H. Joy Stanforth and John Pfeifer will officiate with the burial to follow at the Bloomingburg Cemetery.
Friends may visit at the fairgrounds Wednesday evening from 4-8 p.m. and again on Thursday morning from 10 a.m. until the time of service.
Memorial contributions are suggested to Ohio’s Hospice of Fayette County, 222 N. Oakland Ave., Washington CH, OH 43160 or the Fayette County Agricultural Society, P.O. Box 1017, Washington CH, OH 43160.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.