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Published: 7/11/2001

Methodist minister loved model trains, wrote about them

LEIPSIC - The Rev. Robert C. Whitacre, a former minister at several area United Methodist churches and a model train enthusiast, died Sunday in Otterbein Leipsic Retirement Community of stomach and esophageal cancer. He was 64.

Mr. Whitacre was pastor emeritus at Leipsic United Methodist Church, where he served as pastor from 1987 to 1998.

“He really enjoyed people - going out and caring for them in the hospital, comforting people who had lost loved ones,” said his son, Robert Whitacre.

“He cared for others more than himself.”

Mr. Whitacre was a minister in the West Ohio Conference and a former pastor at the Oakwood and Tiro United Methodist churches and the Bethel and North Union United Methodist churches in Van Wert, Ohio.

As a pastor at the church in Leipsic, Mr. Whitacre helped ensure the financial well-being, as well as the spiritual health, of his congregation.

“He was very knowledgeable about stocks and bonds and how to protect the church's assets,” his son said.

After retiring from the Leipsic church at age 61, Mr. Whitacre became pastor at the Otterbein Leipsic nursing care facility.

“When he retired, he didn't feel that he could totally walk away from the church,” the younger Mr. Whitacre said.

A former auto mechanic, the elder Mr. Whitacre joined the ministry in his late 20s. His son said it was not a sudden revelation but rather a gradual process that drew Mr. Whitacre into the church.

“He just kept praying about what God was directing him to do,” his son said.

Outside of the church, Mr. Whitacre's passion was for model trains. He bought his first train set almost 30 years ago, and slowly began collecting train sets. He had one room in his house devoted to a train layout measuring about eight by 10 feet.

Mr. Whitacre became especially interested in older tin trains produced by the Louis Marx & Co. in the 1930s. He catalogued all the train sets produced in this line, and his labors culminated in a book called Greenberg's Guide to Marx Trains, Vol. 3: Sets, published in 1991.

“He has train memorabilia all around the house, and that one room is quite full,” his son said.

Mr. Whitacre was a member of the Train Collectors' Association, Lionel Collectors' Club, and Toy Train Operating Club. He was a writer and editor for Marx Train Collecting Guide.

His first wife, Wendy Gardner, died in 1992, and his second wife, Virginia Ziegler, died in 1998.

Surviving are his son, Robert Whitacre; daughter, Heather Thomas; brother, Tom Whitacre; sisters, Marlene Ludwig, Joyce Keller, and Sheri Doutt, and two grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Leipsic United Methodist Church. The body will be in the Love Funeral Home, Leipsic, from 2 to 9 p.m. today and at the church an hour before services.

The family requests tributes to the Otterbein Leipsic Retirement Community.



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