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Column

A kind man's legacy lives in center's name

By JEFF WEBB
Published February 8, 2007


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Maureen Bierwiler fought back most of the tears as she read for the crowd a beautifully-written tribute to her husband and her children. She spoke of her 44-year marriage to Francis W. "Frank" Bierwiler, and how much he loved his three children, Frank the businessman, Kelly the teacher and Scott the police lieutenant.

She shared the story about how Kelly very much wanted to dance with Dad at her wedding in 1989. She got her wish and then some. She also was treated to a spin around the dance floor with Dad's buddy Ralph, which was the name the family had given to Sgt. B's crutch. Frank and Ralph both wore tuxedos.

Mrs. Bierwiler told the story, as many have heard Sgt. B. do, of when he was paralyzed from the waist down with multiple sclerorsis 35 years ago. He promised God that if he would give him the use of his legs again, he would use them to do His work.

He literally began dragging himself down the street to church on a walker to attend Mass every day. Within a few months, Mrs. Bierwiler recalled Wednesday afternoon, he was on crutches and off to keep a promise that became his legacy and the community's good fortune.

He moved his family here in 1975 and went to work for Sheriff Melvin Kelly, whom then-Deputy Bierwiler challenged at the polls in 1980, losing by just 24 votes.

Between that time and when he went to work for the next sheriff, Tom Mylander, Bierwiler founded the DayStar Hope Center. People who turned to DayStar were mostly broke, hungry, homeless or on the verge of all three. He loved to tell the story about opening the bank account with $85, and writing a check the next day for $79.65 to a mother of four whose electricity was about to be turned off.

"I knew God would provide ... I had faith," he later recalled.

And he was right. That modest disbursement was the first of an estimated $9-million in cash, food, clothes, furniture, appliances and housing DayStar would dole out over the next 20 years, before his health forced him to retire.

When he wasn't handing out help at DayStar he was handing out information to the press as spokesman for the Sheriff's Office. In a relationship where conflict is almost inherent, Sgt. B was the exception to the rule. Even when they didn't like the answers he gave them, there never was a reporter, at least a good one, who didn't like Sgt. B.

Besides his family, no one knew Sgt. B better than Mylander. On Wednesday, the retired sheriff's voice cracked with emotion as he spoke of love for his friend, and boomed with laughter as he later recalled antics involving Sgt. B.

""Frank loved barbecued chicken with teriyaki sauce," Mylander said. "Every year we'd go to the (auto) races at Sebring." Bierwiler, not being as mobile as his buddies, would plop himself down next to the cooker in camp and wait for Mylander and others to work their magic.

"We'd cook it and he'd eat. He was the first to sit down and the last to get up," Mylander said. Once, after a gut-busting feast, Bierwiler tipped over in his chair and he lay sprawled on the ground, forced to watch his so-called buddies rate his descent with Olympic-style scoring.

His response?

"I told you I was weak from hunger."

Another example of Bierwiler's ability to give and take a ribbing: At work one day, someone stole the rubber tip off Ralph (Sgt. B's crutch). "Frank went up and down the hallways, his crutch making a terrible clanking sound, and yelling "Whoever did this is guilty of abuse against the disabled. You're all in big trouble!"

So, who did it?

"I don't know, but it wasn't me," Mylander said unconvincingly.

* * *

Naming the Emergency Operations Center after this kind, selfless man was appropriate; Sgt. B earned the recognition. But it also is fitting because Frank Bierwiler spent most of his life responding to emergencies.

Jeff Webb can be reached at webb@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6123.

[Last modified February 8, 2007, 05:40:36]


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