Brantner continues life of service as Martinsburg mayor

MARTINSBURG — Public service has been a big part of Richard Brantner’s life.

Brantner, 72, recently became mayor of Martinsburg. He had served as borough police chief for 26 years — from 1976 to 2002.

The mayor’s position became open when Rex Hartman moved from the borough and could no longer hold the office. Borough Council then accepted letters of interest for the post.

“In recent years I entertained thoughts, but as long as the incumbent was in office, I didn’t want to run. When I saw the vacancy, I thought I would give it a try. I still want to serve the public, be a public servant, it is a matter of serving my community. I knew what the job entailed,” Brantner said.

Brantner was sworn into office June 24 and will serve through

Dec. 31. He will be on the Nov. 5 ballot as the Republican candidate for a two-year term.

Brantner’s son, Richard Jr., is borough manager, taking over the position in February 2018 after Randy Stoltz retired.

“I checked to make sure there was no conflict. His job is independent,” the elder Brantner said.

Brantner’s younger brother, Bill, served as mayor of Williamsburg from 2004-08. Bill Brantner is happy for his brother.

“I am glad for him. He always expressed a desire to be mayor. I thought it would be neat to have brothers be mayors of two towns so close together. I think the citizens of Martinsburg are fortunate to have someone like Rich who has spent most of his life in public service. He is meticulous about getting things done. I think he will do a good job,” Bill Brantner said.

Richard Brantner started public service at the tender age of 17 while a junior at Williamsburg High School when he joined the naval reserves.

After high school, Brantner served in the Navy on the USS Suribachi AE21.

After returning home, he worked various jobs until one day he was offered a part-time job by John Traxler, then Williamsburg police chief.

“I got paid $1.80 an hour in 1969. In late 1971, I was named acting chief and, in February 1972, I became chief. I was only 25,” Brantner said. “When I got to work with John, I decided that was what I wanted to do. If not for John, I am not sure what I would be doing.”

At 25, Brantner was believed to be the youngest police chief in the state and later at age 43, he became the youngest chief elected as president of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

After serving as his hometown’s police chief for four years, Brantner accepted the job as police chief in Martinsburg.

“It was a larger department with larger pay. It was a promotion. Ivan Hoover retired, and I succeeded him. State Trooper Mark Golomb talked to me, and Mayor Dick Moore influenced me to apply. Those were the deciding factors; they encouraged me to apply,” Brantner said.

Brantner said he enjoyed the challenge of being a police chief.

“In law enforcement, there are never two days identical. There is always the unknown, there are days that are stressful. Depending on the situation it could be fearful even in a small community. I liked the job, There was no routine; it made it interesting. I am a people person, used to being around people on a regular basis. I never was shot, but I had friends in other departments who were shot. I have attended numerous police funerals over the years,” Brantner said.

Brantner said he had been threatened several times during his career.

“Numerous times me and my wife were threatened by people I had arrested. I had my personal vehicle shot up in the driveway. In Williamsburg I had a shotgun touching my stomach. I have wrestled people with guns and knives. You fear for your life when you have a gun touching your stomach,” Brantner said.

Brantner said law enforcement has changed over the years.

“Today law enforcement nationwide has become more of a target. There have been lots of assaults. Police are constantly being shot,” Brantner said. “Technology is a big thing. When I started, Ronda (wife) stayed at home. The police phone was in my home. No one had radios. You had to handle any situation without any backup. You couldn’t call for a backup; you had to handle it yourself. Today cruisers have cameras and computers. Some police have body cameras; none of that existed when I was chief.”

Brantner admitted he had opportunities to leave Martinsburg.

“I had several communities approach me over the years. … I liked Martinsburg. Our kids were growing up. I didn’t want them to change schools. I was content staying. I liked the community. That is why I wanted to become mayor,” Brantner said.

Brantner cited his uncle Carl Fisher and Vaul Rouzer, who started the Logan Township Police Department as role models.

Fisher was Williamsburg’s police chief in the mid-1960s but had left for another job.

“When advertising for a chief in 1972, he applied, but when he found out I had applied, he withdrew. I always looked up to him,” Brantner said. “Vaul Rouzer was my mentor. We became good friends. It was his demeanor. He gained respect everywhere he went; people gravitated towards him. He had a presence when he entered a room. He was a good all-around person.”

Brantner credits his success to others.

“I always had great people working for me. That leads to failure or success. It has to do with people you surround yourself with. I had good people, and a lot have gone on to other agencies to succeed,” Brantner said.

Brantner was one of the founders of the Blair County Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation, chartered to honor law enforcement officers who have served the citizens of Blair County and lost their lives in the line of duty.

A monument, dedicated June 25, 1999, to these officers stands in front of the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg.

“I got to know so many of the survivors. It meant so much to them. It was a way for families to see their loved ones were gone but not forgotten. It gives you self-satisfaction that you are serving a purpose to your fellow man and the survivors,” Brantner said.

Brantner is also known as a collector of President John F. Kennedy memorabilia.

Brantner was 16 when the president was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

“The first article I read was on Nov. 23 in the Altoona Mirror. I still have that. I got so interested I kept reading anything that had to do with it,” said Brantner.

Brantner said he has 15 plastic bins of memorabilia — newspapers and magazines from all over the United States.

“I’ve been to Dallas a half dozen times to examine the crime scene but not since 2013 for the 50th anniversary. They gave out 5,000 tickets, 2,500 to people in Dallas. They had a lottery for the other tickets, and I got one of those tickets,” Brantner said.

He said he has been asked to donate his memorabilia to the Sixth Floor Museum where JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was located.

“I am considering it. I don’t want it to end up in a landfill,” Brantner said.

Brantner said he has become a personal friend with Jim Lavelle, the Dallas homicide detective who, on Nov. 24, was escorting Oswald through the basement of Dallas Police headquarters when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.

He also got to know Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who was responsible for the protection of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Brantner has been busy since retiring as police chief on March 1, 2002, 26 years to the day he took the position.

For 10 years, he worked as a quality assurance manager for a couple of different firms and traveled all over Pennsylvania working with armed security officers.

For the past five years, he has been working part-time driving a mail truck three days a week.

“I pick up mail at various locations and deliver to Duncansville. That keeps me active. It is not real heavy. I load and unload to keep me in shape. I have to have something to do, I can’t lay around on the couch,” Brantner said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

The Brantner file

Name: Richard Brantner

Age: 72

Position: Mayor of Martinsburg

Education: 1965 graduate Williamsburg High School; associate degree in criminiology from Mount Aloysius College

Family: Wife, Ronda; son, Richard Jr.; daughter, Lisa McCale; three grandchildren

Quote: “I hope I am remembered as someone who cared for the community and its people and tried to do the best job I could to serve the public,” on his days as police chief.