Hospital's original ambulance squad to be honored with Citizenship Award
By Julia Green
The members of the original Margaretville Hospital Ambulance Squad will be honored with the Keene Roadman Citizenship Award at the hospital auxiliary’s annual Harvest Moon Ball on Saturday, Oct. 24 at Hanah Mountain Resort and Country Club.
Original squad members who still reside in the area who will be on hand to accept the honor are four Margaretville residents, Lou Hamway, Bob Hill, Willis Marks and Tom Smith.
The original squad also included the following members: Richard Baker, Doug Armstrong, Earl Cronin, Dick Lathan, Jim Sanford, Walt Heley, Francis Sweeney, Charlie Bouton, Sam Craft, Bryan Burgin, Bernie Ladenheim, Harvey Lawrence, Don Conine, Jake George, Keene Roadman, Elton Mattice, Ray Oliver, Doug Faulkner, Glenn Gavette, Pete Halpern and Don Lewis.
Following are some recollections of squad members who will accept the Keene A. Roadman Citizenship Award.
“The original ambulance was a station wagon that belonged to Everett Herrick, the local undertaker,” remembered Lou Hamway, who served on the hospital ambulance squad for 20 years. “Shortly after the new hospital started, we got the ambulance and then all of us had to take the EMT courses.”
Hamway was a volunteer fireman when he got involved with the ambulance squad, and he said his status as a volunteer with the squad evolved from the days when he helped Herrick. And, at that time, volunteers on the squad were not trained to do CPR; that came later, he said.
“I remember that I had to come from Waterville to Margaretville to ride with those guys to Kingston to take the test,” he said. “That was in the early 70s, right around the time of Woodstock. That was when we started taking CPR – the late 60s, early 70s.
“We would get a call and we would come in to get the ambulance and get the call,” he said. “We had a lot of automobile accidents, heart attacks… lots of times when we got to the scene we were too late, but we were told not to assume death. Unless they were decapitated, we brought them in. There were two rules: unless they were decapitated or rigor mortis had set in, we were not to assume death.”
Hamway added that there are few calls that stand out in his mind, but one that does involved a fellow volunteer.
“The worst call I had was when one of the fellows who was on the squad, his daughter was in a terrible accident and he was on call but they wouldn’t call him because he was the father,” he remembered. “But he heard the sirens go up in Arkville and he showed up anyway. Two boys were killed, but his daughter wasn’t. Those were the hard ones.”
In addition to his years of service on the ambulance squad, Hamway, who worked for NYSEG for 30 years, was a volunteer with the Margaretville Fire Department and has been very involved with the Rotary and with his church, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. Hamway said the value of volunteerism is especially significant in smaller communities.
“I think it’s important for a small community to have volunteers,” he said. “We’re too small to have paid fire departments, and it’s just important to be part of the community. And to have those volunteer services, it’s great to have the fire department right around the corner. We couldn’t survive without them – our taxes would be too high. And the fire department guys are so dedicated – they work all the time and do all their practices for nothing.”
“I was on the board at the time we built the hospital, shortly after the state came out with the requirement that the ambulance calls had to be either a fire department or an organization,” said Bob Hill, who, with Doug Faulkner and Francis Sweeney, comprised the three-person committee responsible for the establishment of the ambulance squad.
Hill, who worked for NYSEG for 30 years, served as a member of the ambulance squad for about 20 years and is a life member of the hospital board.
“Originally it was strictly volunteer, and then it went to EMT and things kept progressing, and after about 20 years they started doing IVs,” he said. “Well, I was uncomfortable doing IVs, and that’s when I kind of resigned from it.”
Prior to that, Hill remembers the responsibilities of those serving on the ambulance squad.
“On calls, you had to take care of the situation – sometimes it was just First Aid, taking vitals, and trying to treat them to the extent to make them comfortable and get them to the emergency room,” he said.
And, he added, as with any job, there were calls he dreaded.
“I dreaded a pregnant mother, ever having to make a delivery,” he said. “One time we had a doctor’s wife in labor and we headed for Walton on Christmas Eve in blizzard conditions. Fortunately, though, she didn’t have the child until she got the to hospital. And then we had heavy people, broken hips, older people falling, and going up and down some places, getting in and out of narrow stairs… you had to be kind of versatile to work out the best situation.”
Hill, a native of Margaretville, has been active with the Boy Scouts and the American Legion, and was a member of the fire department when it began the carnival tradition in Margaretville. He is also a recipient of the Roadman Rotary Award for Community Service – something which he sees as ironic, thanks to his time on the ambulance squad.
“When Keene Roadman had his heart attack, I was on call,” he said. “We got to his home, picked him up, and he was acting quite normal. That was around 7:00, and I went off duty at around 8:00, but by 9:00 we got to the ER and he had passed away. Being presented with that award… I don’t know. It was kind of like chickens coming home to roost or something.”
Hill added that the most rewarding thing about his experiences with the squad was the satisfaction of helping.
“I knew the need for it,” he said. “And there was just a satisfaction of being part of the community and serving people that needed it.”
Hill lived in Margaretville with his wife, Ruth, who passed away in April. His son, Kenneth, resides in South Carolina and his granddaughter, Jenni, is a registered nurse in Memphis, Tenn.
“They just asked for volunteers, I guess, and I signed up,” said Willis Marks of his time spent in service with the ambulance squad. “It was just something else for me to help the community with.”
A Margaretville native, Marks graduated from MCS before serving overseas in World War II. Upon his return to the Catskills, he was appointed postmaster, and while serving as postmaster he earned a degree in business administration. He later earned his real estate license, became a real estate appraiser, and ultimately purchased an insurance agency.
He has been involved with the American Legion for 65 years, serving as post commander, county commander and district commander, and has been active with the Rotary club for 50 years, serving two terms as president. He served as president of what was then known as the Parent-Teacher’s Group at MCS, where his wife, Ginny, was a teacher.
Marks served as a volunteer with the ambulance squad for about a decade and remembers that any reimbursement volunteers received was always turned back over to the hospital.
“Technically I think we were paid,” he said, “but we always turned that money back in to the hospital. I’m 90 percent sure that for some of the time we served, we did get a check for the number of hours, but we never took any money.”
And, while all members of the ambulance squad receiving training in First Aid and CPR, Marks remembers his primary responsibility as being behind the wheel.
“I served as a driver, and then if you weren’t a driver, you were there as the second one in case anything happened,” he said. “I remember driving a lot.”
The driving itself, as fate would have it, turned out to be one of the bigger challenges for Marks.
“I remember taking someone to Kingston and getting down near Pine Hill and I started to keep going as someone cut right across in front of me to go into that little place where there’s a gas station there,” he said. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Oh my God, here I am driving an ambulance and I’m going to be in an accident myself.’ I think shortly after that, I gave it up. That was the incident that said to me, ‘Man, you shouldn’t be driving this thing.’”
Still, he said, there are fond memories of the time he spent on the squad – primarily in terms of what he was able to give back.
“It’s nothing personal,” he said. “What I got out of it was serving the community. It wasn’t about remuneration, it was a small part of small-town working for the community. You just did what you had to do at that moment, whatever it was.”
Marks’ son, Gary, and daughter, Cathy Hinkley, also live in Margaretville.
“As a businessman in Margaretville, I was always very supportive of the area,” said Tom Smith, who lived in Fleischmanns at the time of the ambulance squad’s establishment. “After the legislation went through where funeral directors could no longer use their vehicles as ambulances, trying to find an ambulance squad was difficult because the fire departments didn’t want to get involved, which was understandable. They had their hands full.”
Smith remembers the hospital board appointing Bob Hill, Francis Sweeney and Doug Faulkner to the committee to oversee the establishment of the squad.
“They could not have picked a better committee,” he said. “They were all dedicated, they were all businessmen.”
During that time, in the late 1960s, the Catskill community was growing and had to its credit a well-staffed hospital; the challenge, Smith said, was adding an ambulance squad so that people would want to settle here. He remembers patrons stopping by the gas station he owned to inquire about the area.
“Always, the subject came up: ‘Is there a hospital in the area?’” he said. “It was item number one. The committee recommended to the board that the hospital was going to have to take over the ambulance squad with a group of volunteers from the business sector.”
Volunteers were gathered and began the process of getting certified, undergoing training in hospital emergency rooms in Margaretville and at other hospitals.
“What happened after the law was passed that funeral directors couldn’t be involved, Everett Herrick donated his vehicle, and I think the board picked up another used one,” Smith said. “Then, as this committee functioned, we got into buying an ambulance, and then a building project to build a garage. Then it just continued. It got better, more sophisticated, the training of members got better, the technology… the changes in the ambulance system were just better.”
Smith served for 20 years on the squad – just one item on his list of civic engagements.
“I like to help people,” he said. “And it wasn’t only the need to help people, but the need to help the community and the hospital. For the hospital to survive, because without an ambulance service, doctors would start disappearing because there wouldn’t be enough business to keep them sharp. And we had some good doctors.”
Smith served on the Fleischmanns School Board, of which he was the president when Fleischmanns combined with Margaretville Central School; he subsequently served 11 years on the MCS school board, where he was also a president. He was a founding member of the M-ARK Board, a past president and five-year member of the BOCES Board, and a past commander of the American Legion post, of which he is a 57-year member.
“It was a good run,” he said of his time on the squad. “And the personal satisfaction… knowing you have helped someone today.”
Smith lives in Margaretville with his wife, Dorissa. His son, Gary, also lives in Margaretville; his daughter, Carol Cook, lives in Atlanta, Ga.
Tickets for the Harvest Moon Ball are still available. For reservations or more information, contact Pat Kolar at 845 586-2631 ext. 3145.