This FROM THE CHAPLAIN’S STUDY article was the memorial address delivered at the 108th Annual Conference for the NYS Association of Fire Chief’s and Fire 2015 EXPO at the Turning Stone Resort on Thursday, June 18th. The Invocation was offered by Chaplain Samuel P. Lundy. Three Bible readings were shared before the message: 2 Samuel 9:1-7 by Chief Chaplain Kenneth N. Hessel; Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 by Chaplain Spencer P. Kennedy; 2 Timothy 1:1-7 and 2 Timothy 4:6-8 by Chaplain Kenneth W. Palmer.


To Remember and Honor


            It is good to be home. My high school is within a couple miles from here and my home town is about 8 miles away. I have many fond memories of growing up in Vernon Center. As early as I can remember Memorial Day in my home town was always a high point for my Dad and for all of the veterans in our tiny community. While the population of Vernon Center hovered just under 400, on Memorial Day the streets were lined and the cemetery was packed with people gathering to remember the veterans and especially the veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice – the sacrifice of their lives in battle. It was expected that veterans and the entire community would gather to show honor and appreciation. In that respect the armed services have one up on us in the fire service in their willingness to talk about the death of comrades and to gather to remember and honor as a yearly national remembrance.


            This morning is a solemn time for us to reflect upon the service of the 53 individuals from our association who have answered their last alarm.


            We have heard the names read – individuals from across the state who have served in virtually every position in the fire service. One of our members was killed in the line of duty that we are remembering this morning. Donald “Pete” Martin from the Sanborn (NY) Fire Department with 53 years of service died after becoming ill at a mandatory department training. Pete Martin was 84 years old.


            We are also remembering several who have faithfully served as leaders of our association – presidents, members of the board and regional representatives. We are here to remember and honor 53 members of our association, many of whom we knew through the Chief’s association or maybe the Chaplain’s association or FASNY or Fire Districts or Fire Coordinators or Fire Council or our county fire associations and there are those who belonged to our local fire departments and we served alongside them. Today we honor them, we honor their memory and we thank God for their service.

The New Testament readings that Chaplain Palmer shared are from the writer Paul who was nearing the end of his earthly journey. Paul, writing to Timothy states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. Paul’s message to Timothy would be the same message that these 53 we are remembering this morning would have for us for they too have finished the race and as it true with any relay race – they have passed the baton along to us here today to carry on the race.

We gather here today to give thanks to God for the service and dedication of these individuals who are no longer with us and to offer our prayers for them and for their families, their friends, their departments and their communities. We remember them, we honor them and we are thankful.

            If I were to ask the average firefighter or EMS provider to name a character from the Old Testament – we would hear names like Adam, Eve, Moses, Jonah, Noah, Samson and many more – now this is coming from individuals who have not been in church for years or possibly ever, but they still know many of the Bible characters.

Our Old Testament reading this morning that Chief Chaplain Hessel read came from 2 Samuel 9:1-7 and tells the story of the little known Bible character named Mephibosheth. I know that Mephibosheth is unknown, but he is a very relevant individual character in our discussion this morning. There are actually two Bible characters named Mephibosheth and they are related – probably not a big surprise. The younger Mephibosheth’s father was Jonathan who was a servant to King David. Jonathan’s brother was also named Mephibosheth, who along with Jonathan were sons of King Saul. It is the grandson of Saul, son of Jonathan, and nephew of Mephibosheth who I’ll be referring to this morning – I believe for good reason.

Jonathan was killed in battle when Mephibosheth was five years old. Fearing that the Philistines would seek the life of the young boy, a nurse fled with Mephibosheth, but in her haste she dropped him and crippled both his feet. King David remembered the faithfulness of his servant Jonathan and expressed his gratitude by caring for Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, the only living relative of King Saul.

What did Mephibosheth do for King David – absolutely nothing, he was simply the family member of a faithful servant and thus David provided for him.

In the fire service and our Chief’s association we have lifted up 53 Jonathan’s this morning – those individuals who have been faithful servants to us in our association. As King David cared for Jonathan’s family, we as the Chief’s association need to care for and pray for the families, friends, and departments of these we are remembering this morning.

We remember and honor the families of these 53, as King David honored and remembered the only surviving relative of King Saul – the little known Bible character Mephibosheth.

Today we have remembered 53 very different individuals from different counties who have served in different positions. Different, yet committed to their department, committed to the fire and emergency medical services and committed to our association.

            As King David honored Mephibosheth because of the service of his father – I would like us to pause to honor the family members and colleagues of the 53 we are memorializing today. If you served with them, please stand so we might acknowledge you. If you are a family member or from a department of any of these 53, please stand. Thank you. This service today is ultimately for you!

            Lastly today I want to leave us with a challenge. In 1926, a wealthy Toronto lawyer named Charles Vance Millar died, leaving behind him a will that amused the citizens of his Canadian province. Millar, a bachelor with a wicked sense of humor, stated clearly that he intended his last will and testament to be a bit unusual. Because he had no close heirs to inherit his fortune, he divided his money and properties in a way that amused him and aggravated his newly chosen heirs. Here are just a few examples of his strange bequests:

            He left shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to two prominent men who were well known for their opposition to racetrack betting.


            He bequeathed shares in the O’Keefe Brewery Company (which by the way is a Catholic beer manufacturer) – he left shares to every Protestant minister in Toronto.


            But his most famous bequest was that he would leave his fortune to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children in the ten year period after his death.


            This last clause in his will caught the public fancy. Newspaper reporters scoured the public records to find likely contenders for what became known as The Great Stork Derby. Nationwide excitement over the Stork Derby built quickly.


            In 1936, 10 years after Millar’s death, four mothers, proud producers of nine children apiece in the ten year time span, divided up the Millar fortune, each receiving what was a staggering sum in those days, $125,000. Charles Millar caused much mischief with his will. This was his final legacy to humanity.


            As we look through the names of our 53 deceased members – what was their legacy? Each of those names represent a legacy for each has left something to us, whether we can actually name it or whether it is simply their dedication to our association that we remember today – it is a legacy.


            The question then for us is really a simple one – what legacy will we leave? The same as a wealthy Toronto lawyer named Charles Vance Millar decided what his legacy would be, we too can choose the legacy we will leave to all those who come after us. How will the people who gather here in 5 years or 25 or 50 years from now remember us? What legacy we will leave? We have the choice, don’t we?


Chaplain Leon I. VanWie is a member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains, Inc. He has served on the Chaplain’s Committee of the NYSAFChief’s and has been active in the fire service since 1976. He was an EMT for over 15 years. Currently he is the Chaplain, President and Captain of a Utility Vehicle for the Town of Watertown Volunteer Fire Department in Jefferson County.