By Dan Hust
HORTONVILLE May 24, 2002 In Hortonville, its been a good year, but weve had our share of good times and bad times.
Perhaps that was an understatement of the events the Hortonville Volunteer Fire Department has endured in the past year, but at its annual dinner at the firehouse on Saturday, that statement by firefighter Darryl Emmett seemed to fit the proceedings.
On the good side of things, the department elected new line and civil officers, awarded the 2001 Firefighter of the Year prize to Henry McGrath III, recognized several members for between 10 and 45 years of service, bid a fond farewell to outgoing chief Tim Hornicek and welcomed incoming chief Scott Rosenberger. (The department itself was awarded for its support of the Firefighter Burn Treatment Fund.)
Hornicek related humorous anecdotes of his group of mutual aid misfits, as he called them, but also gave serious credit to the men and women who fought and cried, at times by his side.
In specific, he mentioned firefighters Jon Duffy, Mike Gorr, Scott Rosenberger, Dave Fahrenholz and Gary Kays.
You just give these guys a look, and you know theyll get the job done, he said.
But there was one face he could not look at that night, the one face most in the room desperately wished they could see: Gary Kays.
The 30-year-old Kays, the captain of the department, was murdered late last year at his Beechwoods home. (His killer, 18-year-old step-nephew Ronald Caruso, was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole.)
And in an irony that brought tears to many eyes, Kays was awarded that evening the Firefighter of the Year prize for 2000, which he was slated to receive a year ago at the 2001 Hortonville FD dinner.
Due to scheduling difficulties, Hornicek was unable to attend the dinner and thus asked that the awarding be delayed.
Im sad that I wasnt there to give it to him, said Hornicek quietly as soft cries echoed in corners of the firehouse.
So instead he presented the plaque to Bob and Linda Kays, Garys parents, along with several other awards in recognition of Garys dedicated service to the department and the community.
The department also permanently retired Kays individual number, 1024, and bought a plaque in memory of him and in honor of other fallen firefighters.
Awards also went out to the fire departments from Liberty, Kauneonga Lake, North Branch, Callicoon, Callicoon Center and its Ladies Auxiliary, Jeffersonville and the 911 Center in gratitude for the services they rendered during the difficult days and the memorial service following Kays August 2001 death.
Words can never truly express the appreciation we have for you, remarked Fahrenholz as he presented the awards.
He wasnt the only one who felt that way.
Theres no words to thank everyone, said a teary-eyed Linda Kays after the ceremony. And many are still showing us their support.
Weve kind of lost our link to the fire department now, she continued, but theyre like a second family to us. They are a great bunch of guys, and we cant thank them enough.
They were there when we needed them, agreed husband Bob, a local dairy farmer. Were so very honored by all the support.
Keynote speaker and Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda agreed that volunteers form a close-knit family.
Volunteerism is something unique, he remarked to the crowd of about 80 people. Its something instilled, something inherited.
The danger is real, the threat ever-present, he added. Yet we respond because we feel it in our hearts. We do it without a second thought.
Where would we be without the volunteers of today?
The only wish of many in that room was that one volunteer named Gary Kays could be there to hear those words.