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FUNDRAISING FOR FOLKSTON’S VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT IN 1954

By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian

The two volunteer firemen dropped their heads as the verbal barrage was hurled at them. They had been caught “red-handed” by the angry mother who told them in no uncertain terms just how dastardly their deed was. Their faces reddened as the verbal onslaught continued from the angry woman.

It was the spring of 1954 and the county had just finished celebrating its 100th birthday. To get “seed money” to sponsor the centennial celebration, local officials had gone to 100 people of the county who each put in $15.00 . With this $1,500.00, centennial officials got the event off and rolling. When it was over, about $1,300 was left to be returned to the sponsors on a pro-rata basis. Each of the 100 would get back just over thirteen dollars.

Louie Wade, an outspoken supporter of Folkston’s Volunteer Fire Department, and one other member who will remain nameless, got an early list of those who were to have the money returned to them. The two saw it as a prime opportunity to get almost $1300.00 for the struggling fire department to buy fire hose and other equipment for their department, which did not get tax money back then.

The two firemen locked the Main Street door of the insurance agency office of one of the volunteers and set about to telephone the one hundred, to ask that the refund checks be made payable to their fire department, rather than to the individual.

The hand-cranked telephone of that day made for a slow process, but the two were batting a thousand percent as they worked their way alphabetically through the list of possible contributors. One would do the talking, asking for the refund check, while the other fireman would look up the telephone number of the next prospect. They had the list of one hundred names before them, and the office was darkened to prevent intrusion.

After nearly three hours of calling, there came a knock at the office’s front door on Main Street, and seen through the glass top of the front door was the silhouette of one of the town’s prominent ladies. One of the firemen, the one in whose office the two had gathered, made his way to the front door to see what the lady wanted. That was to be a tragic mistake.

When the key turned in the door lock an angry female bolted into the darkened office with a manner approaching a snorting bull with fire coming from each nostril. It didn’t take long to find out what was on her mind.

The mother was a member of Folkston’s band boosters, another financially strapped group of volunteers who saw the list of one hundred as a source of funds for band uniforms, and who had its own telephone campaign going. Young Louie Wade was sitting there at the desk talking on the phone asking for the centennial refund for his fire department, when the angry mother, her hands flailing about like a broken windmill, verbally dressed them both down for their “lack of public spirit.” She didn’t give the two red-faced and nervous volunteer firefighters a chance to talk back. She fired all her guns in the two minutes she was there and turned and bolted out the front door just like she came in.

It took several minutes for the two firemen to regain their composure and return to the telephone to continue their clandestine crusade. The two groups wound up with each getting about half of the centennial refund money, but the firemen were to fire the last shot.

Within weeks the county was to be swept by wild forest fires. One was to head right for the home of the lady who had verbally beheaded the two firemen. As the firemen drove their shiny new Mack fire truck near her home, to “wet down” the house as the treacherous fire swept nearer, the band mother came out frantically encouraging the firemen to do more.

The two young firemen were at the rear of the fire engine unreeling the small fire hose as the woman approached. One of the firemen turned to the other and with the booming voice of a loudspeaker was heard to say, “Let that woman call her high school band here - maybe they can blow out this fire!” The band mother either didn’t hear the remark or chose to ignore it. Nevertheless, the wild fire was controlled as it neared her home, and the house was spared.

The competition of that day was keen as each group sought money from every source for their fledgling organizations. Government funds were not available and members of each group thought their organization to be more important than the other. Years have passed and the band mother’s musician son is long grown up; the firemen have stopped riding the fire truck, but the incident which took place in a downtown insurance agency office in 1954 would remain crystal clear in the minds of the firemen.

It wasn’t often that one got to witness a real first-class tongue lashing which would last for many years.

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