Sistersville Ferry Was Close to Eckels’ Heart
SISTERSVILLE – A Tyler County man who fought to save Sistersville’s ferry is being remembered for his generous spirit and unwavering dedication to his hometown.
John P. Eckels, 79, of Sistersville, died Monday at his home. Until the end, Eckels was an active civic leader who saw the value of the city’s ferry link across the Ohio River. A point of pride for a city nestled along the banks of the Ohio River, Sistersville’s ferry is one of the last remaining in the region that is still in service.
Eckels served many years as president of the Sistersville Ferry Board where he helped to secure grants to preserve the ferry’s future.
“John did a lot of wonderful things for Tyler County and Sistersville,” said Eckels’ longtime friend, the Rev. Bill Dawson, of First United Methodist Church in Sistersville. “John was instrumental in saving the Sistersville ferry. He was concerned about the citizens who worked in Ohio because that ferry was important to their livelihood.”
Others praised Eckels’ civic virtue and generosity to the community.
“Every time I saw him, he’d ask me, ‘How are you and the city fathers getting along?'” said Sistersville Mayor Bill Rice, who described Eckels as a trusted adviser and who he considered as a “second father” to him. “I joked, ‘We are getting along just fine.'”
Rice recalls that in the late 1960s when there was no local ambulance service, Eckels personally drove people to the hospital. Rice said when a man had bad motorcycle accident, Eckels was there to help him. Eckels also was an active fundraiser and more for the Sistersville Volunteer Fire Department.
These activities echoed Eckels’ service with the U.S. Army with the Medical Corps of the 4th Armored Division in Germany.
Eckels was a member of the Wetzel Masonic Lodge 39, Nemesis Shrine, Parkersburg, and the Sistersville Elks Lodge 333.
“John did a lot for the people in town,” Rice said. “He was always there to help. His loss will be felt by everyone.”
Dawson recalled Eckels as a man who “treated everyone the same, from banker to small children, when he handed out candy during Halloween.”
Edith Taylor, a longtime resident of Sistersville, said during the holiday season, Eckels’ generosity spread far and wide.
“Every Christmas, John always gave me $20,” she said. “I didn’t even know he was going to give me the money. I’d go to my mailbox and there’d be $20. He was a good guy. Everybody is going to miss him. I know I am. He was a nice guy.”
While Eckels was co-owner of the Eckels Funeral Home in Sistersville for more than 30 years, he worked alongside Randy Myers, who purchased the business in 1991.
“He was a good person, good to work for, and helpful to a lot people in their time of grief,” Myers said. “Most funeral directors are helpful, compassionate and sympathetic with people. John had those qualities and the ability to deal with people when they are grieving.”
Eckels also knew his share of grief after his wife Patty died in 2012.
“Every day, John would drive to the cemetery to see her grave,” Dawson said. “He would stand by her grave, pray and then come back home. John was a prime example of a husband.”
Dawson said his friend knew his last days were numbered, but he was ready for the journey ahead.
“John knew his time was short, but he wasn’t afraid,” he said. “He knew he was going to be with the Lord and that he was going to see his wife Patty again soon.”
Eckels is survived by his sons, Dr. Scott Eckels of Williamstown and Todd Eckels of Morgantown; and his grandchildren, Logan, Caroline, Olivia, Jeremy and Kayla.
Myers and Eckels worked side-by-side for decades at the funeral home. Last week, Myers had to prepare his friend’s funeral and burial.
He said he couldn’t personally handle many of the tasks ordinarily associated with a funeral because “it is impossible to do with a family or a friend.”
“It was harder to see him struggling within these last few weeks than to see him at peace in the coffin before the funeral,” Myers said, his voice straining with emotion.
Dawson added, “John was an inspiration to me and everyone who knew him.”
Eckels was buried Thursday at Greenwood Cemetery.