Fifty years of firefighting: Aurora's David 'Buck' Buchholtz to be honored Sunday

LEFT: David “Buck” Buchholtz has served with the Aurora Fire Department, several times as chief or assistant chief, for 50 years. On Sunday, he will be honored for his service by the city of Aurora and the fire department. RIGHT: Three generations of the Buchholtz family have served on the Aurora Fire Department. From left are Henry, David (“Buck”), Dustin and Adam. (Courtesy photos)

AURORA — The day, date, time and place: Sunday, Nov. 19, 1 p.m., Lemke’s Bar & Grill in Aurora. The occasion: the Aurora Fire Department and the city of Aurora honor David “Buck” Buchholtz as he retires after 50 years of service as a volunteer firefighter.

Buck was born in December 1953 in Brookings. The family later moved to Aurora, where he still lives. His father, Henry Buchholtz, was a firefighter. “He was always in the community helping people,” Buck said. “In fact, they named a park after him, in Aurora: Henry Buchholtz Park, in a newer part of town. He always believed in community and people; I think that’s where I got it, being a fireman and helping people. People need help, go out and help them.”

Henry retired from the fire department after 25 years. “He still helped them out, with the fundraisers and stuff, when he was in his 80s,” Buck said. Henry died in 1991.

With his father’s sponsorship, Buchholtz joined the fire department in August 1973. Over the 50 years since then he has served in several key positions: he took over as chief in 1978; moved to assistant chief in 1980 and served again in that post from 1983 to 1985; in 1987 he served again as chief, before stepping down in 1989 to serve as training officer. Those other years, he was one of the crew. Over his 50 years with the fire department since coming on board in 1973, he has served in pretty much every job except secretary.

The Aurora Fire Department that Buchholtz joined 50 years ago has changed, both in the way its duties are discharged and in its membership: the term “fireman” no longer applies: on its roster of about 30 “firefighters,” five are women. “They’re very good, very active,” Buchholtz said.

As for himself, he admits that he “may be slowing down a little. On the last one we went on, handling the hose was tough. Maybe this is for a younger guy. I did it for awhile and had someone relieve me.”

‘Prettiest pink’ truck

While Buchholtz has a lot of good memories of the more serious side of being a voluntary firefighter, he has some memories of the lighter side of the job — involving one of the fire trucks.

One of the mainstays of the department’s rolling stock is a 1949 Studebaker fire truck, which the department bought brand-new. When it was received, it was an uncharacteristic white. The department decided it should be painted a traditional fire-engine red. Back in the middle 1960s, it was. But in the 1980s, a decision was made to return the vehicle to its original brand-new white.

Buchholtz, because of his expertise in auto bodywork and painting, had been the go-to guy for both repainting jobs: white to fire-engine red and then back to white, with the latter job ending up being a bit more challenging.

“I got it all done, it looked good and I went home,” he explained of that second job. “The guys came and got me and said, ‘Buck, what did you do? It’s not white. It’s pink.’

“I went down there (to the fire hall) and it was the prettiest pink you could ever see. Too bad we didn’t sell it to Mary Kay. Oh, was it pretty. I sprayed it one more time and it stayed white.”

The Aurora Fire Dept.’s signature white truck now fills a pretty much ceremonial role: it rolls in many an area parade, such as it did in this year’s Hobo Day Parade.

A lifetime in Aurora

Growing up in Aurora, Buchholtz went through six years of elementary school there before transferring into the Brookings school system. He attended junior high and high school, both of which were housed in the old 1927 building. He graduated from Brookings High School in 1972.

In the late 1960s, even before high school, Buchholtz was doing “hard work” at Aurora Auto Body Glass & Towing.

“My friends would drive by and I’d be working,” he explained. “But I think I came out ahead, in the end. I loved it; I still love it to this day. To me it isn’t work. It’s an art; it’s a hobby.”

However, Buchholtz left that employment in 1980 and went to Prest Rack. He later worked at Larson Manufacturing until retiring in 2019 after 28 years there in Brookings.

In retirement he enjoys fishing, hunting, camping. Add to that the hobby he loves: “tinkering on cars. I have a few of them and I don’t sell them after I do them.” His collection includes a 1957 Chevrolet 2-door hardtop, which was “not in good shape” when he got it in 1974.

“It was in a grove of trees, a basket case,” Buchholtz explained. “All the chrome was stripped off of it and everything. Somebody had customized it. I got it and started working on it. It was drivable, probably around ’80. I got it all painted up.

“But then it took me several years to really get it back to original. I restored it to where I could drive it; it looked nice. I was working at Larson’s at the time, by the time I got it all done: the interior, painting and all that. That was my dream car.”

He also has a 1939 Ford pickup and a 1949 Jeep pickup. At present, he’s putting the finishing touches on a 1965 Pontiac GTO.

Buchholtz’ love of cars is a family affair, shared by his three sons: Dustin, 42; Adam, 40; and Dan, 38. Each boy got a car when he turned 16.

“We fixed them up and they still drive them to this day,” Buck explained. Dustin did a 1958 GMC pickup; Adam, a 1963 Chevrolet; and Dan has a 1946 Chevrolet pickup, a “showpiece, too. They kept them all. Because when they did it themselves, they took care of them.”

Buchholtz and his wife Cynthia “Cindy” married in 1977. In addition to their sons, all married, the couple has 10 grandchildren: six girls and four boys. Both Dustin and Adam have served on the Aurora Fire Department.

In recounting his half-century of service to Aurora and its volunteer fire department, he summed it all up succinctly and modestly: “It was an adventure. I’d do it all over again. I just like helping people. Even though I’m retired, I don’t think you ever do retire. You’re always there to help people in need.”

Contact John Kubal at [email protected].