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Democrat Photo by Dan Hust

HORTONVILLE FIRE DEPARTMENT’S truck #127 slowly backs down the dirt road leading to the burial site of Gary Kays. Firefighters from more than 15 departments and family members accompanied Kays on his “last call” on Sunday in the Beechwoods section of Callicoon. Kays was buried on property owned by his family.

Gary Kays Remembered
As Friendly Hard Worker

By Dan Hust
CALLICOON — September 7, 2001 – Under virtually cloudless, blue skies and on a field of gently flowing green grass, Gary Kays of Callicoon was laid to rest on Sunday in a tearful but impressive ceremony marking his dedicated service to the area.
Beloved by his large family and an even larger surrounding community, Kays, 30, died tragically and unexpectedly on Tuesday, August 28, at his home in the Beechwoods section of Callicoon – barely a mile from where he was buried and in the midst of the rural countryside he was raised on.
“Why are we here today,” rhetorically questioned the Reverend Ignatius Smith, O.F.M., during Kays’ funeral at the Hortonville Firehouse, which brought out more than 300 people. “We are here to mourn someone we call a beloved son, a beloved brother, a beloved nephew.
“We’re also here to support people who truly loved him,” Father Ignatius added as soft cries filled the still air, “and to let him know that he’s not forgotten.”
Firefighters from at least 15 different companies turned out in full dress for Kays’ funeral, as Kays had been captain of the Hortonville Volunteer Fire Department at the time of his death. In fact, many of them had been enjoying his company exactly a week ago at that same spot during the fire department’s annual Field Day.
This time, the firefighters were joined by Kays’ family, friends and an extensive list of acquaintances and milk trucking coworkers who had found Kays to be of glad help in any situation – always friendly, always hard-working, and always talking.
“He loved life, and he liked to talk,” said Father Ignatius to chuckles from the knowing crowd that spilled out from the firehouse’s three bays into Hortonville’s Main Street. “Gary even talked when nobody was there!”
Somberly decorated fire trucks and gigantic milk truck rigs served notice of Kays’ dedication to being a firefighter and a trucker in his father Bob’s milk trucking business based out of Bob and Linda Kays’ dairy farm in Callicoon.
In a heartwrenching irony, they became his pallbearers when they escorted Kays’ casket from Hortonville to his grave on a field owned by Kays’ father in the Beechwoods.
The trucks parked along both sides of Reum Road on a hill overlooking the rolling countryside of western Sullivan County, outlined in starkly beautiful colors by the bright sun on Sunday afternoon.
Then, slowly, dozens upon dozens of uniformed firefighters stoically marched down Reum, though some could not restrain the tears in their eyes. Behind them, Hortonville fire truck #127 bore Kays’ casket, watched over by family and fellow firefighters.
The truck backed down a dirt road leading to the gravesite, part of a new family plot that sits next to an ancient stone wall and an accompanying row of leafy trees. At the mouth of the driveway, a wreath donated by the Mitterwager family marked the entrance to the recently mowed farm fields.
To the mournful sound of Kenoza Lake’s siren (at two miles, the closest one to the site), Kays’ body was carried past row upon row of firefighters – to a family that was not ready to give him up.
People who had hugged and cried with the Kayses after the funeral did the same with each other, and a bagpiper added the strains of “Amazing Grace” to the scene.
And as a butterfly flitted its way past the mourners, the words of Father Ignatius were seemingly blown in by the gentle breeze:
“Don’t waste today. Life is too short. Life is too precious. Gary loved life. He was right in the middle of it.”
Even on Sunday.

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