Although he retired more than 25 years ago and passed away last month, the influence of longtime Fire Captain Harvey Harland Shuster can still be felt at the fire department.
“He was my first captain when I came on in 1985,”said friend and City of Delaware Fire Captain Jim Oberle. “When I came on they said he was gruff, rough and tough, the toughest officer to work for. But that was his outward appearance. Over time I learned he was a great guy.”
Oberle said many people described Shuster as “a nut” but not in the sense that he was nutty.
“He was a nut,” Oberle said. “He had a really tough shell but once you worked your way through that, he was soft. A real genuine, caring guy.”
Shuster joined the City of Delaware Fire Department in 1964 and served for 25 years before retiring as a captain in 1989. Shuster passed away in his sleep at the age of 80 on May 11, 2017, and a funeral service took place on the morning of May 15.
However, Oberle said Shuster lives on at the fire department.
“He’s passed away physically but his legacy lives on through all the guys he worked with,” Oberle said. “He didn’t demand respect, you wanted to respect him.”
Oberle said he has many stories about Shuster, but said one in particular has influenced the way he serves as a fire captain.
“We used to do our own vehicle maintenance and one time I came into his office covered in grease and asked him how many quarts of oil did the engine need,” Oberle recalled. “He pointed to a drawer and said ‘it’s in there’ and I looked at him in disgust. So I went to open the drawer and he said, ‘The files in the drawer are clean and they are going to stay that way.’”
Oberle said he cleaned himself up and found the information he needed about the engine.
“I said to him, ‘You couldn’t have just told me that?’ and he said, ‘I’m not always going to be here, you need to know where to find the answers.’ I didn’t like it at the time, but he knew what was good for me even when I didn’t know what was good for me,” Oberle said.
Oberle described Shuster as “stoic” and said “he cared but he didn’t want you to know that. It was his generation.”
“He was never about pomp or circumstance,” Oberle said. “He had three priorities in life: family, serving his country and serving Delaware.”
Shuster served in the U.S. Navy, and military honors were presented at his funeral by the Delaware County Veterans Association.
Oberle said he had only been working for the fire department for a few months when he went to ask Shuster a few questions, addressing him as “Captain” or “Cap.”
“He pulled me into his office and said ‘do we have a problem?’ ” Oberle said. “I said ‘no, sir. Why?’ and he told me, ‘Three times you’ve called me captain and three times I’ve told you to call me Harvey. All my friends call me Harvey and I’d like to think of us as friends.’ That always stayed with me. He was never about title. He acted like he was no better than me.”
Oberle joked that Shuster would probably be angry with him for sharing these stories and saying nice things about him.
“He was not a limelight guy,” Oberle said. “He just got the job done and was proud to do it. But he’s most deserving of recognition.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.