R. Neil Merckens, Sr. 1931-2013

Danbury Twp. trustee worked tirelessly to save local history


MARBLEHEAD, Ohio — R. Neil Merckens, Sr., a descendant of the first white settlers on the Marblehead peninsula who worked tirelessly to preserve the region’s rich history and a longtime Danbury Township trustee and a former print-shop owner, died on March 24 in Stein Hospice in Sandusky. He was 81.

The family didn’t know the cause of death, but Mr. Merckens had suffered from congestive heart failure, his daughter Rhonda Sowers said.

Mr. Merckens was the great-great-great-grandson of Benajah Wolcott, who settled on the peninsula in 1809 and became the first keeper for the Marblehead Lighthouse.

Mr. Merckens was active in historic preservation and worked to prevent the demolition of the keeper’s house next to the lighthouse. His advocacy included obtaining public access to a historic cemetery off Bayshore Road where the Merckens’ family ancestors were buried.

As a result, Danbury Township gained ownership to 4.5 acres of woodland that included the Wolcott Cemetery and access to a War of 1812 memorial site. That land includes a monument erected in 1858 to mark the graves of eight Americans who died in the first Ohio battle of the War of 1812.

“My dad was well aware of the family history,” his daughter said.

Mr. Merckens and his wife, Rosemary, instrumental in the 1960s in preventing the demolition the lighthouse keeper’s residence, later became founding members of the Marblehead Lighthouse Historical Society.

Stories of family and local lore were handed down from his parents, Reynold “Zeke” and Lois Pettibone Merckens, daughter Rhonda said.

Neil Merckens was born on April 13, 1931, in the Marblehead Hospital, a one-story stone building that became the offices of local quarry firm Standard Lafarge Co. He was a 1949 graduate of Lakeside High School, and he attended Tiffin University.

Mr. Merckens married Rosemary Heminger in 1950, and she died in 2006. Together they owned Peninsula Printing, the former publisher of the Peninsular News, from 1986 to 1968. Mrs. Merckens was the journalist of the family, while her husband was the typesetter and later, as technology changed, handled other publishing methods.

“Everything my mom and dad did, it was together,” Ms. Sowers said. “They ran their business together.”

His other role in the community included 25 years as a township trustee. He helped with the formation of the Danbury Township Police Department and served on an Ottawa County committee that implemented a countywide 911 emergency system, his daughter said.

He was appointed township trustee in 1968 and served through 1994, but he stepped down in an unsuccessful attempt to work for a private firm that was installing sewers. When the next nonpartisan trustee election opened three years later, he ran and was elected, his daughter said.

He ran twice unsuccessfully for state representative. He ran for Ottawa county commissioner in 1990 and was defeated by Darrell Opfer.

Mr. Merckens was a Republican in a largely Democratic-leaning county.

“He was always bucking the odds,” his daughter said. “My father would run wholeheartedly. He put everything into it.”

In retirement he volunteered at Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, where he would greet visitors who would climb up to the top of the lighthouse.

Dianne Rozak, a naturalist at the state park, called him an “exemplary ambassador” for the park who enjoyed meeting visitors and explaining the lighthouse history.

“He had a lovely time,” she said. “I will truly miss him.”

Mr. Merckens is survived by daughters Rhonda Sowers, Rita Mahler, and Ruthe Toncar; son Russ Merckens; 11 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

A memorial will be held at 10:30 a.m. April 13 at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Marblehead, where he was a member and served on the church council.

Neidecker, LaVeck & Crosser Funeral Home, Marblehead, handled the arrangements.

Memorials are suggested to St. John Lutheran Church, Marblehead, or Stein Hospice in Sandusky.

Contact Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.