Herb Herre was the first firefighter to show up after the Fremont Candy Kitchen caught on fire in 1934.
Nick and John Petrow sold candy, fruit, soda pop and other sweets in the Main Street store.
When Herre arrived, he found the store filled with smoke and flames gaining headway in the basement.
It would be among hundreds of fires that Herre encountered during the more than 20 years he served on the Fremont Fire Department.
Decades later, the late JoAnn “Joanie” C. Herre has left a legacy in her father-in-law’s memory that will benefit the community for years to come.
Joanie Herre has bequeathed just over $300,000 to start a fund at the Fremont Area Community Foundation. The Herb Herre First Responders Fund will be used to support the efforts of the Fremont Fire Department and the Fremont Police Department.
FACF Executive Director Melissa Diers said the fund will help the departments over a period of five years. Diers said funds will be used to assist in various ways including, crime prevention, to promote public health and safety, training and staff retention.
The fire and police chiefs will inform FACF on how they want to use each year’s funding. Diers also told the Tribune that funding will be used to support the above-and-beyond needs of both departments.
Officials from the departments expressed their gratitude.
Herre served the fire department from the 1920s to 1947 and was fire chief from 1942 to 1947. Herre’s photo is among those of fire chiefs that hang on a fire department wall.
“We appreciate the gift from his daughter-in-law, JoAnn Herre, and will use this gift to improve the quality of life at the fire station for firefighters,” Fremont Fire Chief Todd Bernt said in a prepared statement. “With the increase in call volume, when firefighters do have down time at the fire station, it’s essential they have time to relax in order to be mentally prepared for the next call. Details are still in the works, but this gift will also be helpful in purchasing emergency equipment.”
Fremont Police Capt. Kurt Bottorff expressed appreciation in a statement from the City of Fremont.
“We are thankful for this generous gift,” Bottorff said. “Our agency will continue to work with the Fremont Area Community Foundation to utilize this fund in a way that will honor the memory and service of Herb Herre.”
Angie Olson, executive assistant-grant coordinator for the City of Fremont, told how much the funds will help.
“With costs of so many things higher than they were a few years ago, this additional funding source comes at a great time,” Olson said in a prepared statement. “The fire and police departments are looking over their needs and have some really good ideas for these funds going forward. We’ve been working closely with Melissa Diers and hope to begin utilizing these funds in early 2024.”
Joanie Herre was a Fremont resident for 57 years and during her lifetime, according to family members, was an avid supporter of organizations devoted to the care of animals. That support has extended thereafter.
Herbert Herre was born in 1899 in New York, states information on his life and career compiled by John Mullen, library assistant at Keene Memorial Library.
The son of German immigrants, Herre and his family had moved to Fremont by 1900. At that time, Herre’s parents, John and Mary, couldn’t read, write or speak English.
Herb Herre and his six siblings grew up in Fremont, where as a kid he was a pitcher, captain and manager for the town’s West School ball team.
He later worked as a machine operator, janitor, skating rink attendant and firefighter.
His first “narrow escape” came in 1924 — not as a firefighter — but as a Union Pacific Railroad employee. That year, a Fremont Tribune article mentioned how Herre had finished his shift on Friday, Jan. 4, but was called in at 1 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5 and told more work was necessary.
He was fixing signals on the railway — with the temperature below zero — when he lost consciousness due to the cold, collapsed and almost froze to death. Herre did many assignments in solitude, but colleagues were with him that morning. He was taken to a nearby home and a physician was called.
Herre suffered no ill effects and returned to work on Jan. 7.
In 1927, articles in the Fremont Herald newspaper reported that Herre and a fire department colleague conducted a general inspection of the Fremont business district as a preventative measure against fire hazards.
“Much of the action Herre observed or took part in at the fire department was chronicled in the news,” Mullen stated. “However, there’s no telling how many fires Herbert encountered from the 1920s to the late 1940s. According to the Fremont Tribune, Fremont had 144 fires in 1943 alone.”
A few Tribune articles mentioning Herre included:
- Jan. 6, 1939 — Herre and a colleague provided first aid to two men injured by an asphalt heater that caught fire.
Herre often was quoted in the paper estimating the extent of damage or explaining the cause of the fire, Mullen stated. A couple examples included:
- Oct. 24, 1944 — In an article with the headline, “Car of Meal at Molasses Mill Smolders Tuesday,” Herre said spontaneous combustion caused the car to go up on flames.
- Oct. 36, 1946 — Herre’s description of destruction was featured in a Tribune article with the headline, “Fire Damages a Two-Story House on North Somers.” Herre, who was fire chief by then, said firemen battled the blaze for almost two hours. The first floor ceiling, dining room and linen closet were badly burned and the entire interior was damaged by smoke and heat, Herre said.
As for the Candy Kitchen fire Herre encountered in 1934, the building on the west side of Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets was gutted by fire. The Petrow brothers moved across the street and opened Petrow’s Café.
Herre and his wife, Maude, who married in 1924, had two children, George and Leola. The Fremont Tribune reported that the Herres celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1974 and at that time had six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
After his retirement, Herre was a painter. He died in December 1980.
Diers said the fund will support the fire and police departments’ important and often dangerous work.
“The Fremont Area Community Foundation is unique in its ability to facilitate the charitable wishes of Fremont area residents and businesses,” Diers said. “People come to us with their dreams and visions for the legacy they hope to leave behind and we are honored to try and facilitate those initiatives.”