Friends, colleagues celebrate chief’s life |

Friends, colleagues celebrate chief’s life

by Merrie Leininger

A “celebration of a life” in memory of Bruce Nystrom by the Ranchos Volunteer Fire Department brought out eight fire chiefs and about 60 friends and family on Nystrom’s birthday Tuesday night.

Nystrom would have been 56 Tuesday. He died Monday after a long fight with cancer.

“Last week, we started this as a birthday party, now it is a celebration of a life for all of us, family and friends. I want to thank all of you for caring for Bruce and caring enough to be here,” said firefighter Bill Smith.

Nystrom’s family, wife Mary Jean; father, Herb Nystrom; son, Eric, 21; and daughter, Gretchen, 16, attended the party. Eric Nystrom spoke to the group near a picture of his father in a Santa hat. Eric said his father loved the department and often brought his children there. He said he remembered riding his tricycle around the feet of firefighters.

“One way to make my father live on is to try and keep a little piece of him in you by always trying to be a better firefighter and always trying to be kind to everyone. Always keep everyone else in mind – be neighbors helping neighbors,” Eric Nystrom said. “I will carry these things with me for the rest of my life. I sincerely hope everyone here and everyone who knew him helps keep him alive forever.”

Nystrom joined the fire department soon after his move to the Carson Valley in 1977 and was president of the station for 17 years. He was elected to the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District board in 1985 and served most of that time as chairman.

Board Vice Chairman Al Wagner said he will miss Nystrom’s determined presence on the board.

“Bruce and I fought like cats and dogs at times and I think we should have been brothers, or married,” Wagner said with a smile. “But that guy was a fighter, I don’t know what else you call someone who went up there until the last, and that last meeting was totally horrendous.”

Many firefighters spoke about their memories of Nystrom, even though tears sometimes choked their words.

East Fork Fire District Deputy Fire Chief Dave Drew told Nystrom’s family they should be proud of the way he handled himself during both bouts of cancer that he fought.

“One thing you learn fighting fires is you can tell a lot about a man’s character when they face adversity. He taught me a lot during his first round of cancer that I used in my own life. But I never learned more than I did while watching him deal with the last round,” Drew said.

Firefighter Craig Brooks said he learned more from Nystrom than anyone else about fighting fire.

“His experience taught me a lot. He was a good friend and kind of my mentor. I’m going to miss him,” he said.

Nystrom seemed to hold the same place in many peoples’ hearts.

“Bruce was one of my better friends. I know he’s looking down upon us now. I loved the guy,” said firefighter Guy Yeaman.

Many people stressed Nystrom’s ability to make friends.

“I knew Bruce as more than just a fire department member, but as a real close friend. He touched people in a real positive way and I thank God for that,” said firefighter Scott Stevenson.

Firefighter Ron Haskins summed up the feelings of everyone in the fire station Tuesday night.

“Bruce touched all our lives, not just the people gathered here, but everyone he knew. He touched the world in a positive way. He will be sorely missed,” Haskins said.