Marge Donohue was shuffling bags of donuts and bread at the corner of Route 28 and the Barton Mines Road early Saturday morning, May 5 for the North River Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary bake sale.
She and other vendors were part of a mile-long tailgate party at the 55th Annual Hudson River White Water Derby. Onlookers lined the highway and rocks along the river, watching paddlers take on the slalom course. As the clouds burned off, this party of paddle fans celebrated a day in the Adirondack sun. The only worry was a little sunburn and a few blackflies.
Meanwhile, about a mile down the road, Marge’s husband — North River fire chief John Donohue — was helping his crew cut firewood for one of their members, Matthew Allen. Eight volunteers spent their first day of the White Water Derby with chain saws and a woodsplitter, cutting, splitting and piling wood for the Allen family.
“I think what Matt’s doing is important, and him being a member of our company, I think this is the least we can do for him,” Donohue said.
Allen is currently in Afghanistan, serving as a medic in the Army National Guard. He left home in January and plans to return in December, when snow will most likely be on the ground. And the time to pile wood is now, so the summer heat can season it for next winter.
“I was told by my mother-in-law, who’s also in the fire department, ‘Plan on the guys showing up because they’re cutting your wood,’” said Allen’s wife, Julie.
Matthew and Julie were reluctant to accept the help, but the help was coming regardless. And she’s thankful.
“I told them all, ‘Don’t worry about it; we’ll get it done,’” Julie said. “But it does take a big load off my shoulders not having to worry about it.”
The Allens use the firewood for an outdoor wood furnace to heat their home. The furnace sits in front of their house, between two open-air woodsheds. She walked past the furnace, billowing with smoke, and laid a tray of refreshments on the tailgate of a pickup truck, next to gas cans for the chain saws. She made lunch for the volunteers.
“I just really want to thank these guys,” Julie said, with a tear running down her cheek. “It makes me proud to know that there are so many people that care about my husband.”
Asked about the festivities up the road, of paddlers and townspeople enjoying the freedom of the White Water Derby while Matthew is in Afghanistan fighting for that freedom, Julie thought about her family and the sacrifices American servicemen make for their country.
“To me it just proves that people here realize that there is a sacrifice always by everybody, the family, the men that are there, the communities that suffer because they are gone,” Julie said. “But the whole reason they are there is so people can be happy here at home.”
In small communities like North River, fire companies and other service groups look out for each other. They’re family.
“At the firehouse, we’re as close as any brothers or anything else,” John Donohue said. “What the fire companies do is an outstanding job, and when you lose one of your members for a year or two so he can go and defend the country, I think this is probably one of the nicest things we’ve ever done.”
Fire company members who helped the Allens included Rick Rogo, Jim Harrison, Will Davis, Scott Phillips, Fred Mors, John Donohue and Juan Pesquera.