50 Years Ago Blacklick Creek Claimed Two Lives

by Suzy Millar Miller


Kids growing up in the Burg often played in Blacklick Creek or French Run Creek. We waded there in the summer, skated in winter, and caught sunfish, minnows and crawdads whenever we could. No one particularly worried about us hanging around the creek. It was what kids did. We never thought about anyone drowning.

Both creeks often flooded and many basements on Lancaster Avenue were full of water. We knew the threat of rushing waters and tried to stay away from the creeks during high water events. 

I grew up on Lancaster Avenue. On June 22, 1956, a flood from French Run and Blacklick Creeks rose and collapsed our basement wall and washed the sod from Budd Oldham’s front yard. I rode in a rowboat up to my grandparents’ house at 1221 Lancaster Avenue as our house filled with water. The event instilled a healthy respect for rushing water and what disasters could happen even on peaceful Blacklick Creek. Ironically, a tragedy would occur in 1969 that caused death to visit someone at 1247 Lancaster.

On June 23, 1969 Blacklick Creek claimed the lives of two men who were intent on saving three little boys who were caught in the rapidly flowing waters.

Reporter Joe Gillette of the Columbus Citizen-Journal wrote

A Little League baseball coach and a helpful neighbor drowned Monday night in rain-swollen Blacklick Creek in Reynoldsburg moments after saving the life of a 10-year-old boy who had fallen in the creek.

“The victims were identified as William (Bo) Joseph Merringer, 1247 Lancaster Avenue and Harold G. Schenk, 39, of 6564 Red Fox Road. Both were pronounced dead at the scene after being pulled from the water by other rescuers and the Reynoldsburg Fire Department. 

“A third man, who also helped rescue the boy, was pulled unconscious from the water and revived. He was identified as David T. White, Sr., 45, of 1554 Marvin Avenue and reported in satisfactory condition at Lincoln Memorial Hospital. 

“The rescued youth was Eric Ashton, 10, of 1631 Lucks Road. The incident occurred about 600 yards behind the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building at 7232 East Main Street and adjacent to a Little League baseball field.

“Young Ashton told police he was walking along the west side of the creek with three other youths when one of the boys pushed him into the water.

“Merringer, whose home borders the east side of the creek, ran to the rescue after hearing the boys’ cries for help.

“Schenk and White, whose Little League team was playing in the nearby field, joined the scene moments later and saw the two struggling in the water.

“They too went into the water and the three men somehow got the boy to shore before being pulled under water by the strong undertow.

“An eyewitness, Tim Pfautsch, 17, of 7099 Ellen Ct., a worker for the Reynoldsburg Recreation Department, said he heard women and children screaming and ran to the rescue.

“ ‘I started to walk across the dam along the upper edge. About a third of the way across, I fell in and an unidentified man pulled me to the side and saved my life.’ “

On the front page of the June 24, 1969, edition of the Little Weekly more information appeared:

“… According to Reynoldsburg Police, three Thompson boys, Donald and Ronald age 11 and David, age 9 of 1029 Pleasant Drive, and Eric Ashton, 10, of 1631 Lucks Road, had gone to Blacklick Creek above the dam with the intention of going wading. David slipped and pushed Eric into the water, the other boys joined him in the water and all four began wading downstream toward the dam where Eric and Ronald both slipped and got into trouble.

“Donald’s call for help was answered by Mr. Merringer who entered the water and picked up Donald and threw him to the bank so he could get out. 

“Donald pulled Ronald out by the hand, and then got a stick for Eric to grasp and pulled him free of the water.

“During that time Merringer had become trapped in the dam’s undercurrent and Mr. Schenk entered the water to assist him. 

Both men were unable to free themselves from the undercurrent.

“Dan Hitchings, 29, 1800 Steckel Road, and Tim Pfautsch, 17, 7099 Ellen Court both entered the water to assist the men. But Pfautsch got into trouble and was pulled to safety and Hitchings could not get to the men.

“David White, Sr., 1554 Marvin Drive, also attempted to help the men but was caught in the undercurrent. The current finally released Merringer, Schenk and White and they began to float downstream.

“Hitchings, Pfautsch, the Truro Township Emergency Squad, and other bystanders pulled the three to shore, but only White responded to first aid. Merringer and Schenk were both pronounced dead at the scene by John P. King, M.D.

“The bodies of both victims were taken to Rutherford Funeral Home. Merringer is survived by his wife, Mary Margaret; a daughter, Judith, 5; two sons, Joseph 10 and David, 2; his parents Mr. and Mrs. James Merringer of 1216 Lancaster Avenue; four sisters and two brothers. Schenk is survived by his wife, Patricia; two sons, Steve and John; and two daughters, Joan and Judy.

The Columbus Dispatch ran an article entitled Dead Man’s Brother Prevented 3rd Death:

Cool-headed first aid by one drowning victim’s younger brother may have kept Monday’s double drowning from becoming a triple tragedy.

“Witnesses said while William (Bo) Merringer, 29, lay dead on one side of the creek, his brother, John, 24, was administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to David White, 45, on the other side.

“White, the only one of three rescuers to survive a plunge into the creek, remained in good condition Wednesday at Lincoln Memorial Hospital“ ‘There is no question in my mind,’ said funeral owner, Pete Rutherford, ‘that White would never have made it if it weren’t for Johnny.’

“The younger Merringer, a Reynoldsburg volunteer fireman, was one of the first on the drowning scene north of the city’s municipal building.

“Rutherford said Merringer began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on White as soon as he was dragged unconscious from the creek.

“ ‘He called across the creek as he was working and asked how his brother was,’ Rutherford said. ‘What could they do, but tell him he was all right?’

“Not until Rutherford had taken White to the hospital in the funeral home’s ambulance did John learn his brother was dead.

“Harold G. Schenk, 39, also drowned in the successful effort to save a 10-year-old boy who fell or was pushed into the creek while playing along the bank.

“Truro Township trustees and Reynoldsburg Jaycees are reportedly considering a special lifesaving award for John.

“But John, who lives with his wife and two children at 1155 Gibson Drive, Reynoldsburg, first must attend another ceremony – his brother’s funeral at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Pius Church.

“The service for Schenk will be at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Rutherford Funeral Home, 7369 East Main Street.

According to John Merringer, Bo’s brother:

While we were driving on French Run Drive, a fire alarm sounded for a squad run. I pulled over at the footbridge by the firehouse. Mary, my wife, says not to go. We have the kids in the car. The fire alarm goes off again for a fire run. I tell Mary to take the kids to her mom’s and I’ll come and get them.

“Chief John Knight meets Larry Blake, Jim West, and myself at the squad. He says that kids are in trouble in the creek behind the Merringers' on Lancaster Avenue We reach the scene and get out. Larry has the rope. Jim and Larry head down and I get the resuscitator. When reaching the dam, Larry was starting to tie the rope around his waist. I grabbed it telling him that I know he can’t swim. He gives me the rope.

I start to tie off, but I see Dave White go under at the dam and I know where he’s going to come up. So, I jump in that area and I was right, he was right next to me. With one pull, I pulled him from the current or back tow. I pulled him up to me and started CPR right in the middle of the creek. Then I dragged him to the far bank, toward the ball fields, where Pete Rutherford met me. He thought Dave was gone, but I said no, he isn’t while I continued CPR. His pupils started to react. Pete said they needed me on the other side, I saw someone fifteen feet from there, but several people were working on him (Bo). I went back across the creek where Mr. Harold G. Schenk was located with people helping him. They gave me a change on CPR for him, but we couldn’t save him.

“On a personal note, Pete Rutherford told me that on the way to Lincoln Memorial Hospital down Livingston Avenue every time he hit a bump in the road, Dave would spit out water. So, when Pete saw a bump he hit it. I wanted everyone to know about this great man and about the good friends of Truro Township Fire Department.

Heroes of June 23, 1969: Larry Blake, Jim West, John Knight, Pete Rutherford, Dan Hitchings, Tim Pfautsch, and Dave White. (Dan and Tim had to be the ones who pulled Bo and Harold out of the water.)

“The words of Jesus Christ: ‘This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.’

“God Bless – John C. Merringer

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded five medals for the actions that day: Dave White, Dan Hitchings, and Tim Pfautsch were each recognized for their heroism. William Merringer and Harold Schenk were awarded for their bravery posthumously:

“William J. Merringer saved Donald G. Thompson, and died attempting to save Ronald D. Thompson and Eric T. Ashton respectively, from drowning, Reynoldsburg, Ohio, June 23, 1969. Donald, 11, Ronald, 11, and Eric, 10, called for help from turbulent water below a dam in a creek. Merringer, 29, plasterer, ran to the creek, entered the deep water, and swam to Donald, who was nearest the bank. After towing Donald to safety, Merringer started toward Ronald and Eric, who were farther from the bank. He became caught in a reverse current and began spinning head over heels. Donald ran downstream to shallow water and waded to the opposite bank, where a pile of cement debris extended into the creek. Ronald and Eric managed to move to near the debris; and Donald aided them from the water. Merringer later was thrown free of the reverse current and, inert, floated into shallow water. Others removed him, but he could not be revived.

“Harold G. Schenk died attempting to save William J. Merringer from drowning, Reynoldsburg, Ohio, June 23, 1969. Merringer, 29, plasterer, who had entered turbulent water below a dam in a creek to aid three boys, became caught in a reverse current and began spinning head over heels in the deep water. Schenk, 39, mechanical engineer, entered the creek from the opposite bank, swam to near Merringer, and attempted to grasp him. He was unable to do so because of the somersaulting of Merringer's body. Schenk then also became caught in the reverse current and was spun head over heels. Both Merringer and Schenk later were thrown free of the turbulence and, inert, floated into shallow water. Others removed them, but they could not be revived.”

Another article, source unidentified, was titled Greater Love Hath No Man”:

Two Reynoldsburg men made the supreme sacrifice Monday evening that others might live. Both victims undoubtedly knew they were in danger when they decided to help but they didn’t question, they acted. Of such stuff heroes are made. The community as a whole joins in offering condolence to the families of the two. Their grief is great. But they may find some solace in the knowledge that William Merringer and Harold Schenk acted from their deepest feelings. Their sacrifice is proof of the basic goodness of man.

On June 23, 1969, two families in Reynoldsburg experienced a life-changing event. Harold Schenk and Bo Merringer were both family men whose decision to save several children in peril reflected their selfless love of others. 

On June 23, 2019, the families and friends of Harold Schenk and Bo Merringer gathered at JFK Park in the gazebo to celebrate the lives of these two heroes.