ELYRIA — Bill Fitch was involved with a multitude of civic groups, but is best remembered as one of the five founders of the annual Elyria Apple Festival.
Fitch, 84, died Tuesday. His health had been slowly deteriorating after being diagnosed with dementia around 2000, according to his son, also named Bill Fitch.
Thousands have participated in the festival since it began in 1981. Fitch was a member of the “Apple Corps,” the group that founded and ran the three-day event that occurs each September.
“He was just the biggest supporter of the city that you could ever find,” said Linda Brown, festival chairwoman and president. “Whatever the city needed, Bill was there to do it, to work and give everything.”
Brown said she met Fitch in the 1970s when they worked together at Elyria Savings and Trust Bank, now FirstMerit. Fitch’s father, R.J. Fitch, was president of the bank from 1944 to 1983. Bill Fitch, a senior vice president in charge of loans, retired in 1989.
John Blevins, 76, a close friend of Bill Fitch, said he met him when he began working for him at the bank in 1965. Blevins said Fitch was a good boss who gave workers the tools to succeed but didn’t micromanage.
Blevins said Fitch and R.J. Fitch encouraged him to get his graduate degree through a bank program, which later helped Blevins become a bank president in Perrysburg, Blevins said the extroverted Fitch loved Elyria and saw the festival as a way to meet old friends and make new ones.
Besides the festival, Fitch was involved with the American Legion, the Elyria Jaycees, the Elyria Charter Commission, the Elyria Chamber of Commerce and school levy committees.
“He was active in just everything,” Blevins said. “Everything he looked at was kind of a new challenge.”
In his spare time, Fitch loved videotaping business and family outings, playing golf and fishing. The younger Fitch, 59, said he was amazed at his father’s stamina and volunteerism.
“He was just pro-Elyria,” Fitch said. “He wanted to make the city a better place for everybody.”