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Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company celebrates 60 years of service

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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.

The day was also meaningful to Susan Derlunas, who's been with the auxiliary since she was 17 and is the secretary. When asked why she's been with the organization for 30 years, she said it was "the love for the company."

"I've got 30 years [in the auxiliary], and when you start it doesn't seem like you're going to have that much time in [it]," Derlunas said. She added that she was "sort of born into it" because her father used to be the chief engineer and her mother was the auxiliary president for many years.

"Nowadays people only think of themselves," Derlunas said. "Being part of the company, you think of other people first before yourself." She added that being part of the auxiliary is really a community service and is really about helping each other.

Charles Anderson, who served as Harford's first county executive in the early 1970s, came to the event because "I grew up in Joppa and watched the fire company since day one."

Anderson thought it was "incredible" how the company has grown over the years.

"If you had told someone in 1951 we'd be celebrating 60 years later, they would've told you that you were crazy," Anderson said.

As the night went on, attendees ate at their tables, which were mostly fully occupied, and talked up a storm as music played in the background.

Chief Derrick Lloyd stood against a wall and greeted people as they passed, posing for pictures with some.

Over Lloyd's 24 years, he said he's met a lot of "interesting people" and the night had a lot of meaning to him because being a fireman is something he's wanted to do since he was 3 years old. He told a story of setting small fires in his grandparents' house as a child so he could put them out with a Tonka fire truck that would hook up to a water faucet. Now, he's just happy to help the area where his family lives.

He has seen Joppa change dramatically, especially after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of hundreds of firefighters.

"When I started," Lloyd said, "we didn't have close-cabbed engines." He added that things have changed for the better, especially with safety precautions.

Lloyd, who has been with the company since he was 16, said he'll do this "until a doctor tells me not to." Unfortunately, that may happen sooner than Lloyd wants — he's fighting brain cancer. Lloyd, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February 2009, said he hasn't slowed down a bit.

"I don't have time to slow down," he said. "Being a chief is a very, very demanding job." At the moment, Lloyd feels fine, but he takes things day by day. On Sunday, he was more focused on the celebration.

"It's sad and unfortunate the people who can't see this today," Lloyd said of his fellow firefighters who lost their lives helping others. But there were plenty of people still around who serve tirelessly, and those people shaped Lloyd into the person he is.

"There's a lot of people in this room who took me under their wing," he said. Those people and the community they serve are what keep Lloyd going.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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