Fire company auxiliary on the job for 60+ years

September 14, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

CLEAR SPRING - If the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co.'s Ladies Auxiliary were a person, "she" would be eligible to collect Social Security.

But rather than being at the twilight of its existence, the organization formed in 1938 is still active albeit with a lot fewer volunteers than in years past.

"I started volunteering more than 35 years ago," said Ruth Mills, one of the stalwart supporters of the ladies auxiliary. "But before that, my mother, Meta Shank, used to drag me to the activities."


Perhaps "drag" is too strong a word, Mills said, but she remembers not really wanting to go. She said she learned a valuable lesson about civic responsibility from her experience.

Mills said she doesn't think her father had been a firefighter, although her own husband did join the company.

"Mom just joined the auxiliary because it was a way to serve the town where we lived," she said.

Mrs. Richard Prather was the first president of the auxiliary in 1938-1939. That first year, the firefighters and the auxiliary teamed up to put on a minstrel show and a carnival to raise money and the legend of good cooking by auxiliary members was born.

The funds that were raised went to the purchase of needed fire equipment, long before the days of government contributions and organized games of chance as a source of funding.

"We have sold jewelry, made doughnuts, held dances and basket bingo and held numerous soup and sandwich sales," said Bev Altman, another veteran auxiliary member. "Then there are the many dinners, banquets and of course, the carnival where we raise money for day-to-day operations."

Bev Altman joined in 1964, the year her son, Bryan, was born.

Bryan Altman is now carrying on a family tradition in the fire company.

"My father, my former husband and now my son, all were active in the fire company," she said. Her membership in the auxiliary was just expected.

"There are six generations of firefighters in my family," Bev Altman said. And her grandsons, J.T., 7, and Dylan, 4, seem determined to follow the family tradition.

In the early days, fund drives often consisted of going door-to-door with "quarter cards." Those cardboard cards had slots for a certain number of quarters, which were then counted by auxiliary members and used for improving the fire company.

Back then, the carnival was held on North Martin Street. "There were no buildings. We cooked on a kerosene stove under tents," Mills said. "I often left my family to fend for themselves while I was cooking for the carnival."

Today, Bev Altman and Mills represent the core of the auxiliary, which has approximately one dozen dedicated members. Both agree that the younger generation in Clear Spring needs to get involved in greater numbers if the organization is to continue to support the fire company.

One representative of that newer generation is Debbie Altman, Bryan's wife. "I joined in 1994 and then in 1999, I was president," she said. the mother of two, Debbie Altman found out she was pregnant with her youngest, Dylan, as she headed into the planning for that summer's carnival.

"It was tough because of all the details that need to be taken care of for carnival, but we did it," she said.

Debbie Altman said that at the end of last year, the auxiliary donated $25,000 to the fire company to help with the purchase of thermal imaging camera equipment.

"In the past 12 years, we have donated more than $100,000," said Bev Altman.

Dues are $2 a year for the auxiliary, which meets once a month on the second Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. For more information call 301-842-3101.

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