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Published: Friday, 5/11/2001

Pipefitter and union executive turned to flying in retirement

Melvin H. Wetmore, a retired business manager for Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 50 who piloted an ultra-light aircraft in his retirement, died Wednesday in his Oregon home. He was 83.

Mr. Wetmore, who belonged to the trade union for more than 50 years, suffered an apparent heart attack, his son, Dale Wetmore said.

A native of Minot, N.D., Mr. Wetmore lost his father when he was 2 years old. He moved with his mother and stepfather to Chicago when he was a boy. His family later moved to East Toledo, where he attended Waite High School.

Dale Wetmore said his father dropped out of school to help support his family during the Great Depression. He found employment with a company that installed furnaces, preparing him for his career as a pipefitter.

Mr. Wetmore was in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, serving in the China-Burma-India theater during World War. II. He was a staff sergeant in the motor pool, providing support for intelligence, his son said. After the war, Mr. Wetmore joined Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 50, working as a mechanic out of the union hall on Bennett Road. Dale Wetmore said his father worked for area mechanical contractors, including the former William Ferrel Co. and the former Kaighin-Hughes-Paulin Co.

Mr. Wetmore was a foreman, general foreman, or superintendent on various construction projects, including contracts at the oil refineries in East Toledo and Oregon and at powerhouses in Toledo and Oregon.

“He was in supervisory positions many times. He could handle the men, getting the message across as to what he wanted taken care of,” said Bill Farnsworth, a retired union pipefitter who worked on projects with Mr. Wetmore.

In the 1960s, Mr. Wetmore joined the union administration, initially as business agent and later as business manager. He administered the union's health and welfare plan. Mr. Farnsworth said that he and Mr. Wetmore worked on a committee that formed the union's credit union in the 1960s. Mr. Wetmore retired in 1980.

Dale Wetmore said his father was a strong believer in the union and workers' rights. “He felt strongly about the good points of unionism and having an organization to represent each member,” he said.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Wetmore assembled an ultra-light aircraft from a kit. He kept the plane at Metcalf Field in Lake Township, where he belonged to the Blue Horizon Club, the airport's flying club.

Dale Wetmore said his father was always intrigued with airplanes and flying, an interest that began when his father was in the Army. “He flew in a small observation plane,” he said. “He had a great time with the [ultra-light].”

Dale Wetmore said his father used his expertise to help others who weren't as mechanical.

Surviving are his wife, Bertha P.; son; Dale M. Wetmore; daughter, Susan L. Smith, and two grandchildren.

Services will be at 1 p.m. tomorrow in the Eggleston-Meinert Funeral Home, Coy Road, Oregon, where visitation will be after 2 p.m. today. The family requests tributes to the Alzheimer's Association, Northwest Ohio Chapter, or American Parkinson's Disease Association.



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