Christopher DeWolf was a big, burly New England firefighter whose firehouse nickname was Chumley because his fellow firefighters thought he resembled the 1960s TV cartoon character Chumley the walrus from Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales.
On Jan. 6, 2005, a roll-over vehicle crash in icy conditions claimed DeWolf’s life in the line of duty for the Newington (N.H.) Fire Department. He left behind his wife and high school sweetheart, Kelly, then 37; his daughter, Lindsay, then 14; and son, Jonathan, then 12.
Whenever a loved one dies, moving forward is extremely difficult. But when a larger-than-life person dies, someone with an overflowing personality like DeWolf had, it leaves a gaping, near impossible hole to fill for his family, Kelly DeWolf said.
Moving to Lakewood Ranch was a huge help in the healing, DeWolf added.
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“I couldn’t be happier being here,” DeWolf said. “It was a good thing for me and Lindsay to move here. Up there the accident was a very big deal. We were that poor firefighter’s family.”
“We had a lot of rough days,” said Lindsay DeWolf, now 27, who lives in Creekwood near Interstate 75. “Mom and Dad were in love from when she was a freshman and he was a junior in high school. He always said, ‘Without Kelly I wouldn’t have my head on straight.’ ”
Christopher would be tremendously proud of all three of us. The kids could have gone down a different path. But they have all overcome the tragedy. Both are successes. They are bright and good people who honor their father by the way they are carrying out their lives.
Kelly DeWolf, Lakewood Ranch
Scholarships to go further
Not giving up in the face of tragedy has now brought some positive results for the family.
Kelly, Lindsay and Jonathan were recently awarded $3,000 memorial scholarships from the International City County Management Association Retirement Corporation, commonly known as ICMA-RC, which they will use to pay costs from the graduate schools they are each attending 12 years after Chris DeWolf’s death, according to Gregory Dyson, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ICMA-RC.
“Christopher would be tremendously proud of all three of us,” Kelly DeWolf said. “The kids could have gone down a different path. But they have all overcome the tragedy. Both are successes. They are bright and good people who honor their father by the way they are carrying out their lives.”
Jonathan, now 25, will use his scholarship for graduate school at the University of New Hampshire in mechanical engineering but hopes to go to medical school to be a cardiologist, his mother said.
Lindsay works at Tampa General Hospital in the intensive care unit and is attending graduate school at the University of South Florida to be a nurse practitioner.
Kelly works in the same intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital as her daughter and is also attending graduate school at USF.
“My mom and I are critical care nurses and these scholarships will allow us to care for more critically ill patients,” Lindsay DeWolf said. “We say that dad is still taking care of us because of all the support we have been given from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Professional Firefighter of New Hampshire. We can call New Hampshire 12 years later and they are still with us.”
Kelly DeWolf said that although she will never marry again, she feels she is part of a bigger family now.
“After we lost Christopher I still feel part of the firefighter community,” Kelly DeWolf said. “To have them consider us worthy of this honor is tremendous. I really feel Chris is still taking care of us.”
Helping families move forward
The ICMA-RC’s main mission is to offer retirement plans and related services for close to a million local and state government employees nationwide, like Christopher DeWolf. But, in 2001, ICMA-RC and its board of directors established a memorial scholarship fund for the spouses and children of state and local government employees who die in the line of duty, and, since its inception, more than 300 students have received more than $1 million in scholarships, Dyson said.
“Each and every year we get some really moving and touching stories as people tell us how they have been impacted by the loss of their loved one,” Dyson said.
Individuals can apply for the scholarship if they are the child or spouse of a local or state government employee who has died in the line of duty and if they are planning to study full-time at an accredited two or four-year college or university or vocational-technical school, Dyson added.
Applicants are selected based on financial need, academic record, demonstrated leadership in school and community activities, honors and work experience, Dyson said.
The Washington D.C.-based ICMA-RC is also one of the retirement plan providers for Manatee County government workers.