Graceham Volunteer Fire Company (GVFC) members gathered in their fire station to celebrate 59 years in operation at their annual banquet on April 27, 2019. President Gary Keller invited the “County Royalty” to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, including Graceham’s own, Leigha Blake (Little Miss Fire Prevention), who stepped forward to lead.
Pr. Sue Koenig provided a heartfelt blessing before the crowd dug into a tasty meal, catered by Donna and her crew from Bollinger’s Family Restaurant. Special guests from Company 15 started the line for dinner; guests clapped in thanks for their services.
Graceham’s special guests were recognized: Kevin Fox, director of Frederick County Fire and Rescue Services; Eric Smothers, president of Frederick County Fire and Rescue Services; and Phil Dacey, Frederick County Councilman. Dacey took the opportunity to show his appreciation as liaison to the Fire and Rescue Board, stating, “It really has been a joy to see communities like this serve like this and see shear community spirit.”
After guests were introduced and the crowd’s applause subsided, President Keller took the opportunity to educate the audience on a special fund: the Betsy Marshall Fund. “Some companies still do collect from that, some do not, but we’re going to pitch into the pot tonight!” This fund is for any member in the fire company who is in good standing in the Maryland State Fireman’s Association and is sick or injured and thereby incapacitated, not in the line of duty. The young volunteers grabbed a helmet or a boot and went table to table to collect donations. While members counted up donations, Jean Main held a brief memorial service for deceased volunteers. Fortunately, the GVFC had no members that passed away in 2018.
Louis Powell, past president of the GVFC took the floor to remark on 2018, “As you all know, last year we had to put out for a new apparatus bay floor. That was a big expense, but it turned out really well.” He also commented about the new fundraisers that members worked hard to make a success. These included two meat bingos, which they plan on continuing in 2019. They also plan to have a monthly bingo.
Louis Powell announced that after just those few minutes of collecting for the Betsy Marshall Fund, the GVFC raised a total of $185. The GVFC planned on matching the donation.
Powell joked, “This year, I’m giving out two President’s awards. I’ve been known to do this since I became president. It’s too tough to pick one person, so I pick two people.”
The first recipient, Josh Helman, unfortunately was unable to attend. He was highly regarded for his reliability and dedication to Graceham.
The second recipient, Nancy Kelly, was recognized for keeping things fun at the fire hall, and largely credited for the start of the meat bingos, as well as serving as head of the fundraising committee.
After passing out gifts to the young volunteer ambassadors who attended with their families, he recognized honorary volunteers who do so much for the company. Lennard and Vonnie Kesner from Middletown and Denny Myers. Denny has been a member since the early 1990s at the GVFC.
Chief James Kilby joined Powell up front to provide the stats of 2018. Last year, the company received 231 calls; 119 of the calls pertained to fire, and 112 were EMS-related.
“I’d like to thank everyone who came out to help get the apparatus out,” expressed Kilby.
He remarked that the company only had a 13 percent failure rate, of which most were during the day while volunteers were at work.
Top responders that were recognized for gearing up for most of the calls were: Hilary Blake (112 calls), Josh Helman (108 calls), Michelle Powell (63 calls), Brian Boller (36 calls), and Katie Lott (35 calls). The officers who also attended the most calls: Chief Kilby (59 calls), Louis Powell (120 calls), Val Kilby (59 calls), and Julie Durgan (36 calls).
This year’s Chief’s award was presented to Louis Powell. “He did an outstanding job keeping up with everything, keeping administrative stuff going, keeping me on the straight and narrow, and helping out with all the equipment.”
Before Kilby had a chance to sit down, his grateful team—Louis Powell, Hilary Blake, and his wife (and current chief)—took a special moment to recognize his effort and dedication to the fire company. Hilary remarked, “There have been ups and downs, but most of all, memories to last a lifetime.” During her sincere thank you to Chief Kilby, her firehouse Dad, she was grateful to him for always being there teaching, not only about fire and EMS, but important life lessons as well.
Val Kilby, current chief of Graceham, addressed her husband, Jim, and said, “One thing we decided, is no one is a past chief, because once a chief, always a chief.” As she rewarded him with a special helmet, newly dedicated for past fire chiefs at Graceham, he stripped him of his badge titled, “Chief,” and pinned a new one on his uniform that now reflected “Past Chief.” As apart of his retirement, he was inducted into the GVFC’s Hall of Fame and presented with a special shadow box, handcrafted by his firehouse family.
Kilby wasn’t the only one with a special induction. Former president, Brian Bollar, was recognized for being inducted into Frederick County Fire/EMS Hall of Fame.
As the ceremony drew to a close, one of the last lines of business was, “The Blackbird Commeth.” Chief Val Kilby enlightened attendees on a little of Graceham’s forgotten history. In the 1920s and the 1970s, the woods of Graceham were thick with migrating blackbirds of all kinds, including crows, starlings, ravens, and red-winged blackbirds. It was estimated that over a million birds filled the tiny town. The phenomenon occurred for a period of 6 to 10 weeks. At the time, Graceham made national news. Skipping forward to 2018, the company has decided to embrace its wild history by making the blackbird the GVFC mascot.
Following the year-end presentation, the ceremony closed with another special moment during the installation of officers. Instead of the stereotypical line-up in the front of the building for this, they gathered around the table of one of their oldest officers, Sterling Siess (turning 94 this year), so he could be a part of the important moment.
“They are strong, but very mighty up here in the mountains,” commented Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Eric Smothers.
Graceham Volunteer Fire Company proudly exemplifies the attributes, not only a strong and mighty team, but a caring family that is always welcoming new faces with arms wide open.
To learn more about volunteering opportunities at GVFC, contact them at 301-271-2000, or you can stop by the station located at 14026 Graceham Road in Thurmont (Graceham).
President Gary Keller, Hilary Blake, Chief Val Kilby, Past Chief Jim Kilby and Past President, Louis Powell proudly display Jim’s Commemorative Shadow Box.
Louis Powell, past president from 2016-2018, displays his award presented by current president, Gary Keller.
Graceham Volunteer Fire Company 2019 Administrative Officers.