Drewry firemen celebrate 50 years
When the Drewry Volunteer Fire Department was started 50 years ago, phone calls for fires went to the party lines of Ellis Fleming, Vernon Whitmore, C.B. Curtis Jr. and the fire department.
They’d rush to the fire station at what was once Drewry School, ring the siren, and wives would then call all the firemen. Special telephone lines were installed at three more locations in the 1960s, and the first person to the fire station wrote the directions on a blackboard before rushing to the scene.
Saturday afternoon, standing in a more modern building where the school had stood, current Drewry fire chief Charles Holtzman shared the story of getting a rescue helicopter landed in the front lawn. He was on a cellphone with emergency dispatchers, and for a second time.
The first call, he was in Vance County, and the dispatcher got coordinates for the helicopter from Holtzman’s phone where he stood. The second call, he was in Warren County, and eventually had to take about 15 steps over so he was in Vance — which the dispatcher confirmed.
The helicopter got there, and the job was completed.
And for 50 years, that’s been the Drewry Volunteer Fire Department as well. Whether responding to 18-wheeler wrecks on Interstate 85, or burning buildings, they get the job done. They still operate today as they did at the first meeting on July 17, 1963, when they were alongside the Drewry Community Club.
Their slogan hasn’t changed: Togetherness is our guide, success is our goal.
“They’ve come a long way,” said Wilson Fleming, who with Bernard Holtzman are the only two charter members still living from a group of 23. They logged more than 80 years combined.
“This was just a hole in the wall,” Holtzman said with a laugh, recalling how the truck bays were created in an area formerly housing the principal at the old school.
Today, membership is just more than 30, though much like then, many last names are the same.
It is a department that defines community. At this intersection of Vance and Warren counties — the dividing line runs across the front yard of the station, which is in Warren — the department is a source of unity.
“It’s more of a gathering place,” Fleming said. “The people really support it.”
Money was tough to come by at the outset, and never has been bountiful from government sources. Fundraising has long been the backbone to provide service from Middleburg to the Virginia state line, and from Manson to Kerr Lake.
For this part of the country, name it and they’ve done it: periodic suppers of ham and turkey, salty herring or fried fish, fried chicken, and of course pork barbecue; gallons upon gallons of Brunswick stew; ash trays and cookbooks; dances and car washes, yard sales and bake sales; Bingo; and several turkey shoots and dove hunts.
The department and community club has sponsored ball teams and 4-H clubs. And it has been there for church homecomings and wedding receptions when the weather turned bad and a large enclosed area was needed.
Outside the building Saturday, children visited a smoke house and some fire engines. Inside, a slideshow presentation played while food was served and fellowship was enjoyed.
Near the slideshow was firemen’s turnout gear, showing the difference from 1963 and 2013. There were also plaques and trophies, reminders of firemen’s days since past and outstanding talented volunteers who earned them.
Some swapped stories, both of what happened this past week, and what happened years ago.
The charter members recalled a couple, too, Fleming remembering how the department had someone sleep at the station during tobacco season, just in case, and Holtzman recalling a burning house in the snow, with someone in trouble and the department hard-pressed to be able to get up the path.
In a short ceremony, Jerry Holtzman — the assistant chief, brother of Charles and son of Bernard — remarked of the nearly two dozen charter members, “Fifty years ago, if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today.”
And all the names were called.
Judy Stainback, who with Jan Reese and the auxiliary prepared and distributed a narrative history, shared a few highlights from the booklet.
Retired firefighters of the department on hand were also recognized, and former chief Randy Jernigan shared scripture, asked for a moment of silence for all firefighters nationwide, and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Fifty years of dedication and resourcefulness were joyfully evident, and overcast skies and spits of rain did nothing to dampen the celebration.
In Drewry, a fire department cares deeply for its community, and its community loves its firefighters.
Contact the writer at email@example.com.
Fire chiefs at the Drewry Volunteer Fire Department:
C.B. Curtis Jr., 1963-1968
James Watkins, 1968-1970
C.B. Curtis Jr., 1970-1971
A.P. Holtzmann, 1971-1981
Randy Curtis, 1981-1988
Jerry Holtzman, 1988-2002
Charles Holtzman, 2002-2013
DREWRY CHARTER MEMBERS
Charter members of the Drewry Volunteer Fire Department on July 17, 1963:
C.B. Curtis Jr.
Maurice Fleming Jr.
Morris Fleming Jr.
William B. Ellington Sr.
Ed W. White