Joanne Derr, left, and Harriet Snyder of the ladies' auxiliary prepare hot dog buns at the Memorial Day luncheon.

Joanne Derr, left, and Harriet Snyder of the ladies’ auxiliary prepare hot dog buns at the Memorial Day luncheon.

Brookfield Township Volunteer Fireman’s Auxiliary, better known as the ladies’ auxiliary, is marking its 75th year this year.

“We’re planning on doing something later this summer or later in the fall to commemorate that,” said member Pat Barnhart. “With everybody being in the hospital, it’s hard to get together.”

The auxiliary, like many other community service organizations, can’t attract enough new members to spread out the work, leaving it up to long-time but aging members, and their health issues are inhibiting what the auxiliary can do.

Long known for hosting funeral dinners, the auxiliary has had to pass on some of the dinners because they didn’t have the manpower available at that time.

“We still like to do the stuff with the community activities,” said member Janet Wedge. “We’re just getting so short.”

The auxiliary formed shortly after the creation of the Brookfield Township Volunteer Fire Department. It was begun to serve the firefighters at fire scenes and support fundraising efforts by the department. While it still has a support function, the auxiliary does not respond to fire calls, and is better known for its community activities, such as hosting a luncheon on Memorial Day, co-sponsoring American Red Cross blood drives and contributing food to the township’s annual Safety Awareness Night.

With the increase in required training for volunteer firefighters, the transition in Brookfield to paid firefighters and a cultural shift away from traditional community service activities, the auxiliary rarely draws from within the fire department.

“It’s a different atmosphere from what it was 30 years ago, let alone 60 years ago,” said member Jean McKenzie. “It was just a totally different mindset.”

When the fire department was a mostly volunteer organization, it had 200 members and the fire service was “the main social activity” for firefighters and their families, whether they got together to play cards or plan the next Homecoming, she said.

Despite the age and health concerns of many members – the auxiliary only gets six to eight people at its twice-monthly meetings – they say they will keep pushing on.

“Raella, she kind of hates to give it up,” Barnhart said. “We’re hanging in with her.”

Raella is Raella Baker, the auxiliary president. She is a second-generation auxiliary member, the daughter of former Assistant Fire Chief Hays Montgomery and his wife, Barbara. Baker has been president for more than 40 years, but has had to take a hiatus to deal with health issues.

Barnhart said the auxiliary has become an integral part of her own life.

“We’ve always done it,” she said. “You’re so used to doing it when the people call you and need it, how can we say no?”

She noted that when the auxiliary holds a funeral dinner it takes a load off the family.

“You can concentrate on your family,” Barnhart said. “You don’t have to worry about getting the food, finding a place to have it, all that kind of stuff. You don’t have to do anything. At the end, we’ll straighten up.”

Wedge is equally committed. 

“You want to serve your community and this is one of the ways that we can do it,” she said.

You don’t have to be a lady to join, and you don’t actually have to become a member. The auxiliary will accept volunteers who want to staff events or donate food to auxiliary activities.

“We will take any side help that we can get,” Wedge said.

Anyone interested in contributing to the auxiliary’s efforts can call Baker at 330-360-7108, or attend an auxiliary meeting. Meetings are held at 5:30 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of the month at the township banquet hall behind the fire station, 774 Route 7, Brookfield.

“We are here. We do a lot. We try to do as much as we can,” Barnhart said.

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