END OF WATCH: December 19, 1961
Cleveland Police Department
Big Art Guenther stood 6 ft 4 inches tall and weighed 270 pounds. He joined the police force on April 2, 1923 at age 28. Twenty-eight years later, due to an accident which occurred while he was on duty, his life changed forever.
He had many different assignments as a Cleveland policeman. He walked a beat, rode in a patrol car and directed traffic at the High Level Bridge with a hand operated STOP & GO sign; but his greatest pleasure came when he was assigned to be the first aid attendant on ambulance #491.
During WWII Art taught first aid to many people, including air raid wardens, through the Red Cross. He was a Red Cross instructor so that he could help injured people as the first aid attendant on an ambulance. He was a forerunner of today’s paramedics.
On June 9, 1950 he and his partner and driver, Theodore Vanik, were dispatched to a crash scene. They never got there. They were in transit to the crash site with emergency lights flashing and sirens screaming when, from a side street, a car appeared and hit the ambulance and knocked it over. Guenther was thrown out of the vehicle and the wagon tipped over on top of him. Vanik and others manhandled the heavy ambulance upright and off Big Art, so that the top-heavy vehicle flipped over onto its other side.
Guenther’s head landed in a catch basin at the curb, otherwise his head would have been smashed as his body was. His pelvic bones were broken, his hip was smashed, right shoulder fractured, ribs fractured and his right knee had fifteen (15) bone fractures.
When he arrived in the Emergency Room at St. Alexis Hospital the doctors gave him 3 minutes to live, but he fooled them and his strong heart kept on pumping. He lived for eleven pain-filled years during which he had fourteen operations. His agony was so intense and consistent that he often begged his wife Mildred to give him his service revolver so he could end it all. She did not have his gun. It was officially recovered at the accident scene.
He was in St. Alexis Hospital four months and became the pet of the nurses, who knew him as the nicest policeman who ever brought a patient to their ER. He was so big that he didn’t fit into a regular hospital bed, and a St. Alexis Hospital engineer was called in to rig up an extension for his comfort.
He also spent eight months in a body cast at St. John’s Hospital during his eleven years of pain. At St. John’s the nerves at the base of his spine were operated on, bone grafts were made, pins, bolts and wire were used to put him together, and plates were put in his back. None of this expert medical care provided by the Cleveland Police Department could put this man together again.
His 66th birthday was on December 18, 1961, and he enjoyed a piece of birthday cake his daughter Leona brought him. The following day, December 19th, he had surgery #14 which he did not survive. Pain free at last!
He was survived by his wife Mildred, son William and daughters, Leona Lorenz and Marjorie Hladik and seven grandchildren. As one of eleven children, he was also survived by many sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews.
Arthur Guenther’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. Panel 60, E -23
By Marjorie Hladik, daughter