WARSAW — A night of recognition filled with laughter and some good fun, had a somber moment Thursday evening. Sept. 19, at the Kosciusko County Fireman’s 76th annual Fish Fry. For the first time the association remembered members from each department who had died.
The event was held at the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds.
Roger Gelbaugh, master of ceremonies, asked members of each department present to stand as he read the names of deceased members and a bell was rung in their memory. Kenn Kunze, an honorary member of the association, was the bell ringer, who later stated it was an honor for him to participate.
But the night was not all somber. Gelbaugh in his usual fashion started the evening reading various jokes that had the 150 plus firefighters and guests laughing.
The purpose of the annual fish fry is to recognize one firefighter with the service award and another with the annual firefighter of the year award. Both awards are presented based on nominations from departments within the county.
Larry Weaver, Turkey Creek Township Fire Department, was the recipient of the Firefighter of the Year and Junior Mast, Nappanee Fire Department, was the recipient of the association’s Firefighter Service Award. Winona Lake Fire Department was presented the attendance award for the year.
Weaver, a firefighter for 59 years, was nominated by the department. The nomination letter stated he has always “been there to lend a helping hand in whatever way they can.” It was noted he has helped hundreds with their home when there was a fire or when a loved one was injured or trapped in an automobile accident. “When they were ill and simply needed someone to talk, he would take care and listen to what they had to say. He has also mentored many firefighters in our department.”
The nomination noted the March 22, 1960, fire that destroyed the fire station at 1 a.m. Weaver watched the fire from a nearby factory. “Seeing what had happened to our department and feeling the need to help any way possible he joined the department in June 1960.” Weaver was certified in basic firefighting practice in 1960. He watched the new station being built and completed in 1963 and has told fellow firefighters many stories of driving the hearse, owned by the local funeral home director, to transport the sick and injured to the local hospital.
He was chief in 1974 and watched the department take over first aid calls and purchase the first set of jaws. He was elected chief again in 1977 when a major fire occurred with 12 area fire departments and more than 100 firefighters providing mutual aid that destroyed eight houses. “He told us after that fire he would never run for fire chief again and to this day our nominee never has. He was fire captain in 1984.”
Weaver, it was noted, has witnessed changes in the department during 59 years and has adapted to change. While he is no longer involved in the offensive attack, “you will see our nominee dragging fire hose and bringing equipment to us when we need it … look in the eyes of our nominee and see the meaning of a true firefighter. He’s always willing to help in any way possible and has played a huge role in building our department back up from 1960s to what it is today.”
Mast has served with the Nappanee Fire Department for 44 years as mechanic, head mechanic, captain, assistant chief and fire chief. “He is the longest serving firefighter in our department, falling short of the record by six years.” His nomination letter noted “he works alongside the youngest members of the department … being a former chief he is looked to as a sounding board … He is a voice of reason among the department when issues come up. He’s a man of few words but is straight to the point.”
Mast is the current head mechanic for the department, saving the department and city money by repairing trucks in a timely manner and keeping them in the station instead of a repair shop. “He can be found taking away time from his job during the week, working at the station on a truck that is having issues. … his experience and years of service on the position he has held, is a big asset and valuable member of our department.”
The meeting also included presentation of year pins from John Grolich, district 5 chairman of the Indiana Volunteer Fireman’s Association. This year there were 19 pins given to members with 10 to 24 years of service and 17 pins given to members with 25 to 49 years of service.
It was announced during the meeting IVFA has received a two year trial grant of $250,000 each year from Ivy Tech for any existing firefighter or new firefighter wishing to get a two-year degree on any program offered by the college, except airplane work, but does include a paramedic program. The announcement was made by Larry Curl, IVFA lobbyist. He noted this is a good opportunity for recruitment for departments and if the funds are not used, the opportunity will no longer be available.
During a “state of the association” presentation, Kevin McSherry, president, noted several projects of the association — establishment of a benevolent fund, continuation of a fan project started by the late Winona Lake Fire Chief Mitch Titus, and other projects.