A couple hundred calls in 1953 to 5,000 in 2010. A budget of a few thousand dollars to one of more than $1 million.
This from a volunteer fire company that, when it started in 1951, didn't respond to any calls because it didn't have any equipment. Volunteers didn't answer their first call until 1963.
This year, 60 years after it first formed, the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company is celebrating the anniversary, and did it so in style Sunday with a dinner at Level firehouse. Past and present firefighters as well as the Harford County Ladies Auxiliary celebrated the fire company's six decades, and most importantly the people who have dedicated their time and lives over the years
In 1953, its first year of answering calls from families in trouble, the company had just a couple hundred calls. Last year, there were about 5,000 calls for service, according to former president Lou Jonske. The original operating budget was a few thousand dollars, now the company works on a budget of more than $1 million, says Jonske and volunteer fire fighter Robert Russell. But on Sunday afternoon, all the company wanted to do was celebrate.
Twenty set tables welcomed the more than 100 guests. Each table had either blue or yellow tissue paper in wine glasses and a commemorative beer mug signifying the 60th anniversary. Men and women mingled with each other and gazed at a table behind a podium, which had scrapbooks and photos of Joppa-Magnolia history.
Framed newspaper clippings from 1974, 1958 and 1959 or 1960 (there was no date on the clipping) sat upright on the table. A large scrapbook with a wooden cover and back that was used as a fire prevention resource in 1976 and 1977 was on display. Another scrapbook had the newspaper clipping of the company's first call — Jan. 11., 1953. Near the book was a framed photo of young firefighters after graduating from their first training course, as well as the actual certificate from the University of Maryland dated March 12, 1953.
Even though the volunteer fire company was formed in 1951, its first call wasn't until 1953 because they had no equipment. Abingdon and the Cowenton area, near Perry Hall and Kingsville, answered calls until they were fully equipped.
One scrapbook on the table was solely dedicated to "charter members who physically and emotionally laid the foundations" of the fire company. Photos of past presidents of the company, as well as the auxiliary, were displayed in the book.
A projector screen at the front of the room showed photos of the firehouse as it was when it was first built and how it looks today. Old and new photos of the company's trucks also appeared, showing just how far Joppa-Magnolia has come.
Jonske, who was president in 2009 and 2010, joined the company in 1967 "simply because my wife said they had a good Christmas party." Since joining more than 40 years ago, Jonske has held many positions, including chief, vice president and hall chairman.
"I'm proud of what we've done," Jonske said of the company. "We're not the biggest firehouse in the county, but we've kept up with the growth." Jonske mentioned that the biggest difference he has seen over the years is that many firefighters are working two jobs in order to support their families.
"Back when I joined, the volunteers could handle it," he said of not getting paid for their services. The volunteers today, he added, have to take another job to help pay the bills.
Robert Russell, current president of Joppa-Magnolia, has been with the company for 11 years as a firefighter and emergency medical provider.
"It's a large milestone that we've crossed," Russell said of celebrating 60 years. Russell is also a full-time communications dispatcher and owns a training team that teaches CPR and first aid. The most important thing to Russell on Sunday: "Recognizing charter life members and past presidents."
Lou Brown, a past chief and on the board of directors, was busy taking photos during the event for his most role as company historian. Brown put together the books of Joppa-Magnolia history, and added that he still had some work to do on them.
"It's something that needs to be done," he said of the books. "If it's not going to be done now, it's never going to get done." The books Brown has worked so hard on will eventually be kept at the Harford County Historical Society inBel Air.
Joining in 1971, Brown describes the experience as "getting into a brotherhood." Part of that brotherhood has been watching cadets grow into career firefighters and leaving the volunteer fire company, as well seeing people pass away.
"In looking back, because I'm the historian, it makes me very much appreciate what these guys have done," Brown said.
Of course, where would the fire company be without the support of the Ladies Auxiliary.
Mildred Henning has been part of the organization almost since the very beginning, joining the auxiliary in 1953. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the company she's been with most of her 85 years had special meaning to Henning — her husband helped build the firehouse.