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UMVFD Treasurer: Getting it done for over 45 years

Above, Cathy Russell (left) is presented an appreciation plaque for her more than 25 years service as treasurer of the Upper Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary of Water View. Making the presentation is auxiliary president Katie Daughtry (right) while Cathy’s daughter Shannon (center) and other auxiliary members and firefighters look on.

by Tom Chillemi

After more than 25 years, Cathy Russell is stepping down as treasurer of the Upper Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department (UMVFD) Auxiliary in Water View. 

She’ll still be part of the auxiliary, and those who know Russell know she’ll keep helping as much as she can—and then some.

Russell’s dedication, attention to detail and thrifty spending have been important parts in improving the fire department.

She has given freely of her time, while not seeking credit, said Tom Brooks, a UMVFD firefighter. “If she helps somebody, she doesn’t talk about what she has done,” said Brooks. “She doesn’t want the recognition that some people crave.”
So humble is Russell that the auxiliary had to secretly plan a recent surprise reception in her honor—she would not have wanted them making a fuss over her, said long time auxiliary member Ellen Carneal. “It’s hard to put anything past her,” said Carneal.

She almost didn’t come to the reception. A cranky knee was bothering Russell, but she soldiered on to what she thought was a “meeting” as she has done for decades.

Russell was there in 1968 when the fire department and auxiliary were formed and has been with them ever since.

Dinners are a big source of income for the UMVFD. For years the auxiliary worked in a cramped kitchen. A few years ago, the auxiliary decided to enlarge the kitchen—and it’s now twice the size of the original one.
Getting it done

One of Russell’s sidekicks and an auxiliary member since 1988, Pat Brooks said Russell always worked to get the best deal on equipment. “We wouldn’t have that kitchen if she hadn’t pushed forward for it,” said P. Brooks. “She has been involved in every facet of everything we did from the beginning to the end.”

Led by Russell, the auxiliary bought used equipment from a dealer in Winchester. It turned out, the dealer had a house in Deltaville. He agreed to deliver the equipment for free. The stainless steel work tables came from a McDonald’s Restaurant that was in the Pentagon.

Carneal explained that Russell used trustees from the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center and fire department volunteers to remodel the kitchen, which took most of one summer of working on weekends. Russell motivated the workers by cooking them meals.

“She has dedicated a lot of hours,” said Carneal. “I greatly admire her dedication to the fire department and auxiliary. She will spearhead anything she thinks needs to be done.”

Russell was always involved in the July 4th parades that the UMVFD used to hold every year, said Carneal.

And when there was a fire call, Russell was among the auxiliary members who took water and food to the firefighters, Carneal said. “That’s a routine thing for her. She’s there when anybody needs her.”

Carneal said there are few people with Russell’s dedication, and she hopes younger people of the community will come forward and volunteer. The auxiliary membership is open to men as well as women.

“Like family”
Amy Ellis joined the UMVFD Auxiliary in 1990. As secretary for several years, Ellis worked with Russell on many projects and events. “Cathy welcomed me and has always treated me like family,” said Ellis. “She is a very dedicated and hard worker and very talented person.”

Ellis will be filling Russell’s shoes as auxiliary treasurer.

“She has overseen a lot of projects we’ve done in the fire department to better the building and help our firemen in many ways, and I praise her for all her time and energy she has volunteered to the Upper Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department.” “It’s been fun”

Russell is not sure how long she’s been treasurer, but knows she’s held the title for at least 25 years. “It’s been a lot of hard work but it’s been fun at times,” she said.

Dinners are the main fundraisers for the fire department, said Russell, adding that the kitchen expansion was among the most-needed projects. “We don’t know how we worked out of the original one.”

Dinners are social events. Some people are there when the doors open and are still there when it’s time to lock up. “The dinners are a lot of work but I enjoy meeting the people and trying to serve good food that people like,” said Russell.
Russell noted at the auxiliary’s first oyster dinner eight gallons of oysters were cooked. For the most recent dinner, 30 gallons of oysters were cooked.

Dipping ice cream
“It’s a delicate balance” directing or leading, Russell said. Her husband Ronnie, a longtime member of the UMVFD, “is the outside cooker and I’m the inside cooker; and that’s the best way to have it,” she said, referring to the saying “too many cooks . . .”

She appreciates the dedication of those she’s worked with through the years. “It doesn’t work with one person; you’ve got to have everybody there.”

Russell said she’ll continue cooking the ham and corn pudding, and breading oysters as long as she can.

Asked why she has stayed involved for 45 years, Russell simply replied, “It gives me something to do, and keeps me up on the news.”

Russell recalled the two years when she and Kathy Thrift rode in the back of a pick-up truck as the final unit in the Water View July 4th Parade. While riding the two dipped ice cream and sold it to those along the parade route.

That’s imagination. That’s Cathy Russell. 

posted 12.18.2013

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