Seagrave takes firefighter to final resting place
Danny Hellwinkel’s two worlds — the Douglas County Engine Co. and the family’s C.O.D. garage — were within minutes, maybe seconds, of his front porch on Mono Avenue. He could see across Minden Park to the fire station. The garage where he worked as a mechanic was just down the street.
For 76 years, from the day he was born until he died March 17, Hellwinkel lived at the corner of Sixth Street and Mono, a life that seemed simple, but brought him accolades, awards and the affection of the 400 people who attended his funeral.
By 9:30 a.m. Saturday, more than a dozen fire trucks were lined up at the parking lot at St. Gall Catholic Church, an hour before Hellwinkel’s funeral started. Volunteer firefighters were marching back and forth, practicing for the honor guard. The old C.O.D. tow truck — shined up, but not running — was parked on the grass.
Within the next hour, more than 400 people had visited the church to say goodbye to the man who fixed their cars and farm vehicles, rescued stranded motorists at any hour of the day or night or raced to their ranch or residence to put out a fire.
Many of the mourners were Carson Valley old-timers who smiled at the C.O.D. telephone number, “291,” on the side of the tow truck, reminiscent of the days before four-digit numbers, prefixes and a Nevada big enough to need two area codes.
During the service, Michael Fischer, a Gardnerville dentist, volunteer firefighter and former Douglas County commissioner, talked about the different ways he knew Hellwinkel. Fischer was president of the engine company and Hellwinkel chief for many years of their friendship.
“When I was a county commissioner and he was the chairman of the Minden-Gardnerville Sanitation District, we settled an occasional difference over cookies and coffee in my front office,” Fischer said. “We could go toe-to-toe over an issue and Danny would just say, ‘Doc, I’m going to tell you what is.’ We had many a spirited discussion, but I learned to respect his ‘what is.’ Most of all, we were friends.”
Fischer urged the congregation to model Hellwinkel’s example.
“Be strong, be forthright, but most of all, be faithful to the principals that made Danny such a fine, respectable person,” Fischer said.
Marlena Hellwinkel, who is married to Danny’s older brother Don, told stories about Danny running across Minden Park to answer a fire call in the dead of night, still putting his trousers on.
Once when his pickup was parked at the then-new Minden fire station, the truck started to roll toward the building. Fearing the pickup would damage the wall, he put his hand between the truck and the wall and cut the tip of his finger off.
Marlena said Danny, who never married, had four romances that she knew of. One took him to Spain and when he returned, he brought her a souvenir hotel sewing kit to repay her for sewing up the fly in his boxer shorts before he left.
He was a “bachelor cook, ” she said, and started every day with oatmeal that invariably boiled over. He liked sauerkraut, candied sweet potatoes and cream puffs. He also made ice cream and got his nickname, “Sickle,” when he was a little boy because of his love for Popsicles.
“If Danny had a fault, it was that he really never took care of himself,” she said. “If diabetes had nuts, bolts and belts, he could have fixed it.”
She said her brother-in-law loved and appreciated all his friends, but he had a hard time thanking them or receiving thanks.
‘He would blubber,” she said. “I can see Danny wearing his chief’s uniform, standing at the pearly gates. God is patting him on the back for a job well done and Danny is blubbering.”
For a man who spent more than 50 years as a volunteer firefighter, it was only fitting that Hellwinkel be taken to his final resting place in a vintage fire truck.
Friend and fellow volunteer firefighter Henry Dreyer was at the wheel of the old Seagrave — built in 1927 when Hellwinkel was a year old — that delivered him to the Genoa Cemetery for burial.
The old fire truck led a procession of volunteers and mourners for nearly an hour traveling the few miles to the Genoa Cemetery, stopping briefly at the Minden volunteer station and snaking down Highway 395, and up Genoa Lane to the cemetery for a brief graveside service.
At 12:50 p.m., a tone from Station No. 1 crackled over the scanner in the fire truck parked at the cemetery.
“Chief Dan Hellwinkel has returned home,” the dispatcher said.