Former Mehlville fire chief loses his fight with cancer
By BILL MILLIGAN
For the Call
Ten days after being sworn in as the new secretary of the Mehlville Fire Protection District's Board of Directors, Joseph J. Gaterman, 65, lost his battle with cancer.
Mr. Gaterman died Tuesday, April 29 at his Ringer Road home in Oakville.
Mr. Gaterman worked 28 years for the Mehlville Fire Protection District and served as chief from January 1992 to June 1998 when he retired.
After his retirement, Mr. Gaterman was appointed to the Board of Directors when member Bob Pennick resigned.
Mr. Gaterman served on the board from June 1998 until April 1999 when Daniel Ottoline Sr. was elected to serve the re-maining two years of Pennick's six-year term.
"That fire district meant the world to him,'' said Nan, his wife of 47 years. "He wasn't a miracle worker, but he thought he could bring the fire district back together. It seemed to Joe that it had broken into factions. Joe was hoping to bring the unity back.''
People he worked with agree.
"They need a little bit of direction right now,'' his friend Al Benedick, a district retiree, said of Mehlville firefighters. "Joe was a good chief. They really fell apart since he left. I hope they can find a director who can think the way Joe did.''
"Joe definitely worked for the taxpayers interest,'' said Tom Nieder, a former deputy chief. "You couldn't ask for a better person.''
Mr. Gaterman was the top vote-getter April 8 in a three-way race for a board seat being vacated by Jim Abkemeier Jr., who did not file for election for a second six-year term.
"I was an assistant fire chief while he was chief,'' said Robert Palmer of Oak-ille, who is retired from the district. "People liked working for him because he would give you a job and then let you alone to do it.''
Mr. Gaterman was chief during Mehl-ville's preeminence among St. Louis area districts.
Born in St. Louis, Mr. Gaterman began his career with Ladue Fire District in 1962. He moved his family to south county in 1967 and was hired by Mehlville in 1970.
"He was on my crew when he came to Mehlville,'' said Bill Cliffe, a former dep-uty chief. "He was the nicest man. He was always thoughtful of the men and the public.''
"He was an exemplary man in all facets of life,'' said Connie Cliffe. "He was a good father. He believed in his God. He was loved by all.''
He was a member of Mehlville Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters for 29 years, including 12 years on its Board of Directors and eight years as president.
"He sure made my work easier,'' said retired Chief Clifford Zelch. "He was the union rep when I was chief. He was an excellent firefighter, an excellent administrator and one of my best friends.''
Besides his wife, survivors include two sons, Michael and Scott, both of St. Louis, and eight grandchildren.
Visitation was at Kutis South County last week. A prayer service was conducted May 2 at St. Agatha Catholic Church, St. Louis and burial was in Mount Olive Cemetery, Lemay.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorial contributions be made to the Epilepsy Foundation of St. Louis, BJC Hospice or St. Agatha Church.