Daniel “Pops” Hottel began volunteering at the Woodstock Fire Department in 1942 at age 16 and remained a member until dying Tuesday at 94.
Outside of the firehouse, Hottel was a fixture in Woodstock. For 37 years he was a milkman for Shenandoah’s Pride Dairy. Until 2012, he worked for the town’s public works department painting fire hydrants, a task his son Phil has inherited.
Over 78 years, Hottel served as a volunteer for the Woodstock Fire Department in every role imaginable.
Once Hottel’s days of running calls ended, his presence remained in the firehouse whether he was taking out the trash, attending meetings or fundraising.
His grandson, Zach Hottel, said, “I think he was the embodiment of what a volunteer is.”
The volunteer gene was passed on as Phil and Zach Hottel have been volunteers at the department for 30 and 14 years respectively.
Woodstock Fire Department Chief Scott Gray said Daniel Hottel’s historic knowledge of the department provided wisdom that will be hard to replace. Daniel Hottel, he said, often provided a perspective on why things are done a certain way and “making sure that we don’t re-create mistakes” while continuing to properly serve the community.
“He’s definitely a top-notch individual, not just within the fire department, just as a man in general. He had a lot of integrity, he had a lot of folksy wisdom in the way he saw life and gave you good advice,” Gray said. “He’s just a generally well-respected man and firefighter and leader within this department.”
Former Woodstock Fire Department Chief Wayne Bowers, a friend of Daniel Hottel for four decades, said, “if you needed any information, just ask Dan and he would know what was going on.”
“He had good knowledge, a good head on his shoulder, and he’s going to be missed,” Bowers said.
Gary Yew, former fire chief of Shenandoah County and the Woodstock Fire Department, said Daniel Hottel’s knowledge had no bounds.
“He could read off dates, names, fires that were big in the community, how the fire department came to be, how it was built…Dan was a great history buff. And he instilled how important that history was in all of us,” Yew said.
Beyond all, Gray said Daniel Hottel’s positive attitude stands out.
“Things were better when he was around. He didn’t complain, no matter what he never complained. He always saw things on a positive note and it just kind of made you feel better just having him around,” Gray said.
Gray is not alone in those sentiments as Bowers recalled Daniel Hottel’s “unselfish love,” leadership and “respect for everybody.”
“He was loved by everybody that knew him,” Bowers said.
And he knew a lot of people, as Zach Hottel said: “he had more friends than I probably ever will.”
Woodstock Mayor Jeremy D. McCleary said that Daniel Hottel “will be remembered as a legendary figure” who was “one of the kindest and most pleasant people that one could ever encounter.”
He added that he was “the type of person that everyone should aspire to be.”
“He was universally respected by the entire community. In fact, I have never seen a person receive as many standing ovations as I have seen Mr. Hottel receive over the years,” he said.
While the exact origin of the “Pops” nickname is unknown, it was fitting not only because he was the department’s senior member but also because he served as a father-figure for many.
Yew noted that he “was a mentor to all of us” who “tried to set an example and instill among us how pride is important to us as an individual and to the department.”
“We looked at him as a father figure, we really did. The fact that we always referred to him as Pops was, I think, a great compliment. That’s the way we looked at him,” Yew said.
The fire department was indeed Daniel Hottel’s second family, and Phil Hottel said he was more than happy to have shared him.
Zach Hottel agreed, saying, “there was enough of him that I was happy to share that with everybody.” He added that many volunteers saw his grandfather as a role model and “a lot of people hold him up as an example.”
Daniel Hottel will receive a fitting sendoff Saturday as he will be transported by Bowers in a 1942 antique department fire truck to his final resting place.
“The Lord will be getting a good, good guy when he goes into heaven,” Bowers said. “He’s going to be missed, there’s going to be a hole there for a while. We just have to cherish the memories that we have while he was here on Earth.”
In place of flowers, Daniel Hottel’s family asks that contributions be made to the department at P.O. Box 176, Woodstock, VA 22664, toward the department’s new apparatus fund.