Harrisonville firefighters honor former chief after Elks Lodge gifts agency with new US flag

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HARRISONVILLE, Mo. – There was a special exchange of the American flag Thursday afternoon in Harrisonville, and that old flag holds special meaning for one local family.

The Cass County Elks Lodge #2791 gifted the Harrisonville Fire Department with a new American flag.

The organization donated the 12-by-18-foot flag to the department Thursday on Flag Day. It’s used during special funeral services and is often draped on overpasses and bridges during the processional of fallen heroes.

“As Elks, the American flag is very special to us,” said Randall Henderson, a member of the organization. “We honor it whenever we can.”

The former flag had been used for more than a decade following the death of Harrionsville’s former fire chief, Joseph Gerke. But now, the retired flag is with his family.

“It feels really good to know that the community still remembers the impact he had on the community,” said Cindy Spencer, Gerke’s daughter.

Gerke worked for the Harrisonville Fire Department for 29 years. He started as a volunteer and eventually worked his way to chief, until his untimely death in 2004.

“He brought the department up from a small volunteer fire department here in Harrisonville to what it is now a paid, 24-hour staffed fire department,” Spencer said.

Gerke and his wife had four children and all of them, including mom, were once volunteer Harrisonville firefighters, according to Spencer. Their son, Duane, continues to serve as a captain for the department.

“Being a part of the department was a real pride and joy for my dad,” Spencer said. “I think, at times, it was probably his first home. It was not uncommon in my house to have dinner disrupted every night for a fire call, and the whole family at one point was part of the department.”

Spencer said the retired flag will forever stay in their family and be passed down for generations.

“It’s hard to put into words what that means to us as a family,” she said.

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