Youngwood firefighter memorial 5K run raises funds for scholarships
Volunteer firefighter Lance Wentzel was a runner, so it’s only fitting that the Youngwood Hose Company No. 1 and Youngwood Area Business Association hold a 5K run/walk in his honor every year.
On Sunday, 127 runners of all ages participated in the fifth annual Jeffrey “Lance” Wentzel 5K Run/Walk along the Five Star Trail in Youngwood. The memorial run is a fundraiser for the scholarship fund that bears Wentzel’s name. It awards scholarships to students studying to be emergency responders at Westmoreland County Community College.
“Lance was a huge runner, so when they approached us about the race, we were honored to do it,” said his widow, Judi Wentzel. “We would walk for miles nonstop, he and I. I miss him terribly.”
Wentzel was killed on March 22, 2014, a Saturday, while assisting in the search for a Wilmerding woman who had gone missing the previous Monday. He was struck by a freight train on one of the Norfolk Southern lines running under the George Westinghouse Bridge in North Versailles.
Wentzel, an electric supply salesman and a 35-year veteran of Youngwood Hose Company No. 1, was working with the department’s K9 water rescue unit at the time of the accident. He was 57.
A black granite memorial to Wentzel sits outside the Youngwood fire hall on South Second Street. In addition, the memorial run raises between $3,000 and $4,000 for the scholarship fund, according to Sue Bossart, past president.
Judi Wentzel, 62, of Youngwood, said she enjoys working behind the scenes at the race — setting up and stuffing bags.
Although the two lived in Youngwood not far from each other, they didn’t meet until eight years ago through a mutual friend at the fire hall. They were married for 18 months at the time of the accident.
Wentzel said her husband was the runner of the family, although she often walked in the races he participated in.
“He’d wait for me (at the finish line) — and wait, and wait,” she said, smiling. “He had a whole collection of T-shirts.”
On the day of the accident, Wentzel remembers Lance calling to say he might be late: “He said, ‘Put supper on hold, honey.’ ”
Not long thereafter, she got a frantic call from Lance’s sister informing her that a Youngwood firefighter had been struck by a train during the search. She had seen it on the news and was awaiting confirmation that it was Lance.
Authorities believe Lance Wentzel was struck from behind and that he may have been confused about the source of a train whistle that had just sounded.
“This was a really tough one for the community,” Judi Wentzel said.
Eighteen days later, the body of Ruth Ann Mullennix was found in the Monongahela River near Turtle Creek.
Wentzel said she stays in touch with the woman’s family.
“Our families are joined together,” she said. “This tragedy has brought a new bonding.”
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .