Where Are they Now? Rismiller, Widener share life-saving experience.

by | Oct 1, 2021 | Columns, Darke County News, Features

Joe Widener, left, and Ron Rismiller look through newspaper clippings that tell of the miracle rescue they were involved in 37 years ago in Rossburg. Photo by Linda Moody

Ron Rismiller and Joe Widener’s paths crossed on Feb. 22, 1984, and the events that day remained etched in both of their minds today.


Ron, then age 24, saved the life of the 3-year-old Joe after he fell into a cistern.

Rismiller said he was working as an auto body repairman at Smith Chevrolet in downtown Rossburg, when Kathy Widener, then pregnant with youngest son Chris, came running to the shop seeking help from someone to save her son’s life.

“I just happened to be the only one there,” said Rismiller, who went to the site and lowered himself into the pit. “He was laying face down in the water. I’d say there was 3 1/2 to 4 feet of water. I went to the daylight side of the hole to look for him and caught a glimpse of his tennis shoes.”

Rismiller subsequently grabbed the young boy and carried him out of the entrance of the pit and handed him to a rescue worker, Marvin Lenker, who happened to be the stepgrandfather of Joe.

“Then rescue took it from there,” Rismiller said. “At the time it seemed like it took a while but it probably didn’t.”
Rismiller said his father, Ralph, passed away earlier that month and that was the first week he had been back at work from funeral leave.

“It was starting to get dark and was in the lower 50s maybe,” he remembers that day. “It was fairly nice for that time of year. Kids were out playing.”

Joe doesn’t remember much about the incident but has heard reports from others who were there to witness the rescue.

“I know Marvin Lenker was there and so were John Middleton and John Snyder (other rescue people),” Joe reported.

The incident occurred at Joe’s grandmother’s house, now the home of Butch Widener, another relative, which was near Smith’s employees’ parking lot.

“My cousin, David Hummel, and I were playing in the backyard when I fell into the hole,” Widener recalled.

David, then 2 1/2 years of age, is the one who ran into the Widener house to inform them of the accident.

“I am amazed that he was old enough to get help,” Rismiller said of Hummel. “That is the most valuable part of the story.”

Joe said, “I remember David, saying ‘water,’ ‘water,’ ‘water.’ From what I was told the lid went down after I stepped on it but never broke and they could never get it back out.”

Fortunately, Joe fell on top of the lid and didn’t become trapped.

The hole, it was noted in one of the newspaper accounts, was 18 to 20 inches wide.

“To this day, I will not step on a lid,” said Joe, now 41. “I will walk around one before I step on it.”

A deck, he believes, has since been built around that rescue area site.

Widener was told that on the way to the hospital in Greenville they disconnected the train in Ansonia for the squad to get through on its way to the medical facility during that medical run.

“They said I wasn’t breathing until they pulled into the hospital,” Joe said. “Someone said it was the greatest sound they heard when I cried.”

After he was stabilized at Wayne Hospital, he was transferred to Children’s Medical Center in Dayton, where he remained for a few days.

Today, Joe, son of Kathy and Ron Widener, is actively involved with the Ansonia Rescue Service as an officer and EMT-Basic, as well as being Rossburg Fire Department’s assistant chief and his job as a full-time mechanic at Cooper Farms. He has also been a fire instructor for six years.

He said he has gone to near-drownings in a pool and bathtub on rescue runs, but they didn’t bother him.

“I just do my job,” he said.

The worst call he ever made as a firefighter was a triple fatality in a one-car accident in Rose Hill.

“That was one of my first runs as a certified firefighter,” he said.

Fire and rescue work is nothing new to the Widener family. Joe said his father was a firefighter for 40 years, while his Uncle Butch was on the department at one time. Uncle Slug was a former chief and Rob Widener is the current chief.

Joe has been with Ansonia Rescue for 12 years and his wife, Angie is also a rescue squad member. The couple loves to go camping.

For his part in the rescue, Rismiller received a framed certificate from the Ansonia Kiwanis Club’s director Donn Smith after his life-saving deed.

Today, he lives in Ansonia with his significant other, Robin Johnson. He works at Rowland’s Truck and Equipment and enjoys riding bikes and attending car shows.

Rismiller, who will turn 61 on Oct. 19, said he sees Joe from time to time in passing on the roadway, noted that he got a thank-you from Joe many years ago.

Rismiller even attended Joe’s graduation and wedding.

Here is a close-up of a newspaper article, penned by yours truly, featuring the rescue of Joe Widener by Ron Rismiller in l984. Photo by Linda Moody
Joe Widener, left, and Ron Rismiller look through newspaper clippings that tell of the miracle rescue they were involved in 37 years ago in Rossburg.

I am a Darke County native living in the Ansonia area with my son. I have been in journalism 50+ years and enjoy what I do.

Contact Darke County Now Media Correspondent Linda Moody @ lmoody@darkecountynow.com or 937-337-1955.

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