Names are frequently somewhat synonymous with locations. When we think of Hyannis Port in historic Nantucket, Massachusetts, we are keenly aware that it has been the home place of Joseph P. Kennedy and his famous family since the early part of the twentieth century. Similarly Hyde Park, New York, conveys recollections of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. For those of our age frame, Plains, Georgia, is also clearly distinguished as Jimmy Carter’s home territory. You may be wondering where we are going with this article?
The name ‘Reutimann’ imprints our fine city with unique charm and personality. If there were to be anointed a royal family of our pleasant town it would undoubtedly be this colorful racing lineage distinguished by both integrity and grit. Clereen and I have so enjoyed writing our weekly article and as we have mentioned one of our goals is to solicit feedback and ideas from the community on historical milestones. Not surprisingly, a recurring request from alumni has been to recount the historical contributions of the Reutimann family.
Clereen and I have given a great deal of thought to this article because it is perhaps our most challenging to compose. We both greatly respect this clan and we are keenly aware that there is both triumph and tragedy in their story. We write the article with a prayer that we will convey a bit of the Reutimann family’s chronicle with grace and accuracy. Note that the school history over time has been infused with a great deal of religious doctrine as was the case for all American schooling until the 1960’s or thereabout; with that in mind, we think it is fitting to capture the family’s narrative during this time of year which encompasses not only a religious holiday but also marks the anniversary of the death of a patriarch of the Reutimann family, Emil, Sr. in March of 1960. We invite the community to add to our story, correct our information and contribute to the documentation of our town’s true regal dynasty.
The Beginning: In Reporter Mary Harman’s interview of Tillie Reutimann Smith (daughter of Emil and Amalie Waeffler Reutimann) from April 2000, Tillie related the origin of the Reutimann’s in Zephyrhills. Tillie said that Emil Reutimann, Sr., came to Tampa in 1910 from Switzerland, bringing his wife and their 5-year old daughter, Helena, and Reutimann’s father, Johann Ulrich Reutimann (1812-1914). Emil, Sr., a machinist, had visited America previously to scope out the possibilities of work and then returned to Switzerland to marry his childhood sweetheart, Amalie Waeffler. They immigrated a few years later through Ellis Island and quickly became naturalized citizens. The young Emil then lined up a job with James Brothers Garage in Tampa, Florida. From there the Reutimann’s moved to Zephyrhills in 1915. Tillie reflected about the move, “Zephyrhills was just a place in the country with streets of sand. I can remember Hennington’s Department and Grocery Store and Penry’s Department Store. They were both located in the area of East 7th Street and 5th Avenue.”
Now in Zephyrhills, Emil Reutimann, Sr., went to work for Mr. James Greer doing mechanical work on his sawmill on Wire Road. (Note that Greer operated sawmill and turpentine stills at the foot of Greer Hill several miles north of town on U. S. 301.) Reutimann also opened a small garage with the ‘town’s first gas pump’ on Highway 301. Amalie worked as the bookkeeper and the family lived in a home now known as the Palmer House on 5th Street. When the Reutimann kids, Tillie, Helena, Gertrude, Marguerite, and Emil Jr., started school it was at the old wooden schoolhouse at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Sixth Street; they later graduated from the school at the site of the school now known as R.B. Stewart Middle School. The garage business was passed on to son (Emil, Jr.) in 1939, and the Reutimann Chevrolet Dealership evolved from this garage in 1954.
The school history is jam-packed with accounts of ‘Reutimann’s. Here are some examples: Emil Reutimann, Jr., was editor of the first Zephyrhills Annual, Spotlight, and his staff included his sister, Marguerite. In 1935 one of the Spotlight articles included an admonishment to students to respect the school colors (not orange and black) but gold and purple. Here’s an excerpt: “Did you ever take time to look in the dictionary and really find out what our ZHS colors mean? They are “Royal Colors.” Purple is the blend of blue and red—the color of Robes of State! As a noun it means a robe of color; hence: rank of royalty. There is also Gold—a precious metallic element of bright yellow color and when pure, very heavy, precious and of pure quality. With colors like that it is no wonder that we are proud of ZHS?”
"Spotlight.” includes: Vera Cook, Mary Emery, Lina Felts, Rebecca Magness, Grace Mott, Sarah Parsons, Donald Plank, Emil Reutimann, Marguerite Reutimann, Eva West, S.A. Clardy, Ernest Linkey, Laura Rogers, M. Slater, & Norma Stone.
Emil, Jr., was very prominent in many school articles as were his sisters. Tillie was the editor of the school newspaper and the newsletter featured society information that gives one a real glimpse of social life in the 20’s and 30’s around town. All of the Emil, Sr., children are captured in ZHS history. If you’d like to check out the Reutimann’s throughout ZHS history, look at the fivay site at: http://www.fivay.org/zhs/index.html.
It is reasonable to make the connection that from that early Emil, Sr., garage in Zephyrhills, a racing heritage was cultivated. Actual stock car racing in the Reutimann family began in 1938 when Emil, Jr., raced a “hot rod” at the Ben White Speedway in Orlando. (According to Emil’s brother-in-law, Lowell Steve, race cars were called hot rods in that period of time and were actually stripped down family cars.)
We learned from grandson, Wayne, Sr., that the “00” preferred racing number that appears on most Reutimann racing vehicles came from a family tease that originated with Grandpa Emil who said of one of his grandson’s early racing rig heaps, “It looks like a whole lot of nothing.” From that phrase came the practice of using the number, “00” on the Reutimann racing rigs. We learn from the Reutimann’s that hard work, genetic propensity for knowing the inner workings of engines, and even luck enter into the racing discipline.
Early Reutimann car
Fast forward to the twenty-first century and news coverage of the school and town continue to include the Reutimann’s: A St. Pete Times article of May 10, 2006 reports on the success of David Reutimann, Jr., (great-grandson of Emil, Sr.) who conducted his first local celebrity appearance with NASCAR in Zephyrhills along with his dad, Buzzie Reutimann, his uncle, Wayne Reutimann and his cousin, Wayne Reutimann, Jr. all of whom had become accomplished race car drivers. At that 2006 appearance, David, 1984 ZHS grad, summed up the Reutimann’s usual humility and unassuming demeanor as he said, “I was thinking when they said you’re going to have to sign autographs from 1 to 4, that I’d sign for about an hour and there wouldn’t be anybody left in line.” ( Workers said that despite incredibly hot temperatures, the line to meet all of the Reutimann’s stretched more than 100 fans long throughout the afternoon.)
Since 2006, the story continues to unfold in NASCAR history and racing legend as well! (Note: To illustrate the Reutimann’s and their down-to-earth charisma, consider the many monikers they have given to each other which range from Booby (a Swiss name for “baby boy” used by the parents for Emil, Jr.,) to Buzzie (Emil, III) to Pookie (Wayne, Jr.); and these are only the ones we know about! You can ascertain from these names, that although talented, they do not take themselves too seriously—the mark of a healthy psyche!
The Reutimann’s have, of course, had their share of luck as well as misfortune.
Veteran Zephyrhillians will undoubtedly recall with sadness yet today, the tragic accident that occurred in 1973 on 301 near the old Ruck’s Dairy as the family returned from a race. Emil “Booby” Reutimann, 1931 ZHS grad, his son, Dale Reutimann, 1973 grad, and their dear friend, Gordon Stone, ZHS sophomore, lost their lives. Emil then 56, was a former Zephyrhills City Councilman, a longtime member of the Zephyrhills Volunteer Fire Department and owner of the Reutimann Chevrolet Agency. To capture the gravity of the loss, read the official wordage of the proclamation issued from the City of Zephyrhills in their recorded minutes:
“Whereas, Almighty God in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to call from our midst to the Great Beyond a former city councilman who was a pioneer member of a prominent pioneer Zephyrhills family and
Whereas, the tragic home going of Emil “Booby” Reutimann has left his native community bereft of a dedicated citizen who served its interests to the best of his ability, contributing generously and unselfishly to its development and beautification, and
Whereas Emil “Booby” Reutimann will long be revered in memory by those who treasured his friendship, benefitted from close association with him, acknowledged his contributions to the cause of good government and community betterment, and loved him for the conscientious citizen he was, now therefore be it RESOLVED…
The City of Zephyrhills has suffered the loss of a valued former official, booster and friend and further be it
RESOLVED, this resolution is to be sent to the family and a copy is to be incorporated into the minutes of this special meeting of Zephyrhills City Council on September 18, 1973 ~Paul Dickinson, Chairman of Zephyrhills City Council.
A correlation to the historical American families carries on as we think of the Reutimann’s in comparison to some of the leaders of our country such as the Kennedys. We revere them for their service and we love them for their common demeanor and warmth. We know too that we can always count on them. Thank you to our Zephyrhills royal family for capturing our town and school culture throughout nearly 100 years!
Note: We asked Wayne Reutimann, ZHS Auto Mechanics Teacher for nearly 30 years, to review the article before submitting it to the News, and he gave us his stamp of approval. Thanks Wayne for your service as a teacher to ZHS and the community!