The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.
Many residents of Sullivan County are in mourning following the unexpected death of a long-time community leader.
Clay Shidler, chief of the Hymera-Jackson Township Fire Department, died Monday at Terre Haute Regional Hospital after crashing his vehicle in northeastern Sullivan County.
Shidler, 60, of Hymera, was a 31-year member of the fire department and volunteered for many community organizations.
“He will be dearly missed and is unreplaceable,” said Hymera town facilities manager Nick Cullison. “His volunteer work and community outreach has been astronomical. He was a dedicated family man and a friend to everyone.”
Sheriff’s deputies responded to the crash at 4:06 p.m. on Sullivan County Road 900 North near County Road 30 East.
Hymera-Jackson Township firefighters responded. Thunderbird Fire and Rescue, Shelburn Fire, Lewis Township and Sullivan Fire also assisted. Deputies were assisted by Sullivan Police and by the Farmersburg and Hymera town marshals.
The preliminary cause of the crash is accidental, Cottom said, noting Shidler was on his way home from work at the time of the crash.
Seat belts were in use. Air bags deployed, and speed was not a factor, the sheriff said.
An autopsy was planned in Vigo County.
Shidler organized an annual collection for the Christmas for Kids, Cullison said, and he organized fish fry fundraisers and recently completed a grant application for $2,000 to purchase an all-terrain vehicle for the fire department.
“He was the backbone to this volunteer fire department,” Cullison said.
Terre Haute resident Jennifer Stockton recalls being influenced by Shidler as a young child growing up in Sullivan County.
“He was like a father figure to me,” said Stockton, who said she was best friends with his daughter growing up.
“He was a very great human being. He’d bend over backwards to help anyone he could,” Stockton said. “He was involved with kids at school, and he’d be at sports events, cheering them on.”
Roberta Russell of Christmas for Kids said Shidler was excited to support children in the community.
“He was very pleasant, very joyful, had a positive attitude and was very personable,” Russell said. “He tried to look at the bright side of every situation.”
About five years ago, she said, the Hymera volunteers joined the “boot drive” fundraiser for the Christmas toy project, even though there is no intersection on Indiana 48 in Hymera to conveniently stop traffic so motorists can put money into the boots held by firefighters.
“We serve about 1,000 children,” Russell said of the effort, “and all the firefighters in the county do the collection on a winter day. It always seems like the coldest day of the year for people to stop and give, but they do.”
Sullivan County Sheriff Clark Cottom said Shidler was a well-respected public servant and community leader.
“This is a great loss to our community,” Cottom said. “Clay was a soft-spoken leader that was rarely seen without a smile.”
Shidler is survived by his wife, a daughter, two sons and six grandchildren.
Funeral services have been set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Hymera First Baptist Church on Indiana 48.
Visitation is set for 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at the church, with an Indiana Volunteer Fire Association service at 7 p.m. Visitation continues 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday prior to funeral services at the church.
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