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Cecil Calvert Bittinger

February 28, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Cecil Calvert Bittinger, who died Feb. 21 at the age of 73. His obituary was published in the Feb. 23 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Friends and fellow firefighters gathered Feb. 21 at the annual Hagerstown Fire Department banquet to honor Cecil Calvert Bittinger as Volunteer of the Year.

Cecil had passed away earlier that day at his home.

"Cecil would have been so elated to win that award," said Donna Bittinger, his wife of 44 years.

The plaque was presented to Donna at Cecil's funeral by Randy Myers, now a battalion chief.

The inscription says "for many years of outstanding service to the community and Hagerstown Fire Department as a member of the South Hagerstown Fire Company, Air Unit and Board of Public Safety."

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President of South End since 1965, Cecil made it a priority to keep the small fire company on First Street active and strong.

Cecil joined the Maryland State Police in the early 1960s, soon after he left active duty with the U.S. Army. During his tenure, he served as barracks commander in Cumberland, Md., and Hagerstown, retiring in 1996.

Donna first met Cecil when her father did some plumbing work for him.

"I was a senior in high school when Cecil invited my dad to bring his family down to the river," she said. "Cecil was just about to graduate from the state police academy then."

Eight years her senior, Cecil dated Donna while she was in nursing training.

They were married in 1964. Their daughter, Karen, was born in 1965, followed two years later by their son, Doug.

"We have always lived in this house, which had been Cecil's mom and dad's home," Donna said of their Wilson Boulevard residence. Over the years, they put an addition on the back to gain more space for their growing family.

Throughout his police career, Cecil always made the sacrifice to travel with his job when necessary rather than moving his young family, Donna said.

His longest trip during those years was to the barracks in Forestville, Md.

"Everyone had a lot of respect for dad," Karen said. In her younger days, though, she said her friends were afraid to come to her house.

After all, Cecil was very tall, had a deep booming voice and carried a gun in his work. But once people got to know him, Karen said, they soon discovered what she knew all along -- he was a big softy.

Karen and Doug said their strongest memories always will be of family camping trips. Donna said Cecil was the wagon master for what became known as "The Myrtle Beach Gang" -- a collection of families in the area who traveled to the city on the Atlantic Coast in South Carolina.

"All our children were the same age, so they grew up and played together on these trips," Donna said. "We're still doing it."

The last trip Cecil was able to make was in October 2008 to Westmoreland State Park in Virginia.

Donna and Cecil worked long, hard hours in their respective careers -- Cecil usually during the day and Donna mostly at night.

"Our children saw the sacrifices we made, and still Karen became a nurse and Doug wanted to be a trooper," Donna said.

Karen found her niche as a nurse in the intensive care unit at Washington County Hospital for the past 20 years. Doug has been with the state police for 21 years.

Since Cecil was ailing, there were a lot of phone calls, mail, e-mails and visits from friends and former colleagues.

"He was a trooper's trooper," Donna said. "Most spoke of how much of an impact he made on their lives."

With Cecil in his blue recliner, friends would pull chairs up so they could share state police or fire company stories.

"I hadn't heard a lot of those stories," Donna admitted.

The Rev. F. Allan Weatherholt Jr., longtime Maryland State Police chaplain, conducted the funeral service for Cecil on Feb. 25. He remarked how Cecil's wonderful spirit and faith remained strong despite his bout with cancer.

"He was an outstanding leader in law enforcement and one of the finest individuals I have known," Weatherholt said in an e-mail.

There often weren't enough hours in the day for Cecil to tend to his police career and his 40-plus years as a volunteer firefighter.

"The scanner was always on in our home," Donna said. "Cecil would tell me that this was his week on call ... right up to the end."

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