Colleagues award Jerry Saunders top award for second time in his career

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 19, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Back in February, Jerry Saunders received his second Chuckatuck Volunteer Fireman of the Year award, voted on by his colleagues.

&uot;I won this award for the first time in 1971,&uot; Saunders remembers, a slight smile creeping across his face. &uot;Back then, I was expecting it, but this time I didn’t know in the least. I thought they’d give it to someone younger.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Maybe the voters were thinking along the lines of a lifetime achievement award. If that’s the case, Saunders would be tough to beat. He’s been a member of the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) for 48 years, and was the fire chief from 1986 to last February. Saunders is also one of only 13 lifetime members of the CVFD.

&uot;I wanted to be a firefighter when I was younger, and we didn’t have a fire department for seven miles either way,&uot; Saunders says of his youth. His father and brother, Harvey and Harvey Jr., were charter members of the CVFD, which was formed in the mid-1950s.

&uot;It was a whole lot different then. We bought a truck from Langley Field that had an open cab and no equipment, hoses or anything. We bought a couple hundred feet, some Indian tanks and fire rakes from the Virginia Department of Forestry. We even housed the engine in a garage until they built the station on Godwin Boulevard.&uot; In 1998, the current fire department on King’s Highway was completed.

Saunders might not remember the dates of every fire, but that doesn’t mean that he has a lack of memories.

&uot;I fought a big bonfire caused by lightning in Isle of Wight about 30 years ago. We took on the Smithfield Baptist Church fire, and fought peanut warehouse fires all over Suffolk. Some of them lasted all night, others went for days at a time.

Saunders has been a member of the Chuckatuck Ruritan Club for nearly four decades. But back in the mid-1970s, he and some fellow members had an idea to bring some fresh finances to the area.

&uot;We suggested an oyster roast,&uot; he recalls. &uot;The first year, it was held behind the Suffolk Airport, and about 200 people showed up. They held it across from St. John’s Church until 1999, and then moved it to Everrett’s Road.&uot; Last week, a sellout crowd braved the recent wind and rain to get their fill of the seafood in the Oyster Roast.

So what does the future hold for someone who has spent so much time improving Chuckatuck life? Saunders isn’t quite sure.

&uot;I’m going to stay active as long as I can, as long as I’m physically able,&uot; he says, &uot;but I’m definitely trying to slow down. I’ve tried to cut back on Mickey Mouse calls, like when people call the rescue squad because their toe hurts or because they’re feeling weak. It’s hard to get out of the system after 48 years; when that pager goes off, even in the middle of the night, it’s hard not to get up and go. But I’m always going to try and be of any help I can to the department.&uot;

Name? William G. &uot;Jerry&uot; Saunders

Age? 63

Hometown? Chuckatuck

Family? Wife, Iola; daughter, Wendy; son, Jay; son-in-law, Shea Spain; grandchildren. Nicholas and Meredith

Education? Chuckatuck High School

Career/occupation? Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) for 48 years, Chief for 17 years. Also work at Lowe’s of Suffolk.

Why did you pursue your chosen career? My father and brother were charter members of CVFD. I missed the charter membership by three months. Being part of the community, I always wanted to be a firefighter.

Favorite thing about your job? Working with the people in the CVFD and helping people in the community.

Volunteer activities? I was involved with the Boy Scouts of America Troop 25 as assistant Scoutmaster, institutional rep. for 45 years, member of the Chuckatuck Ruritan Club w/38 years perfect attendance, was charter member of the Suffolk Police Auxiliary for 20 years, a member of Oakland Christian Church.

Favorite thing about Suffolk? Chuckatuck and Lone Star Park

What accomplishments are you most proud of? My family and being a part of CVFD and my community.

What motivates and inspires you? People motivate me and my wife Iola inspires me.

Favorite way to spend free time? What free time? I go to Nags Head and the mountains.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with others? Helping others is more satisfying than helping yourself. Volunteer as if there were no tomorrow.

What ingredients are the recipe for a good life? A good marriage and family. Lots of love, loads of giving, a little bit of fun and no complaining.

We all have our 15 minutes in this life. How would you spend your time in the spotlight? Being with my family away from the spotlight.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Doing more for and with my family and less time on the job.