Responding to accolades for his decades of dedicated community service, long-serving firefighter Robert McKinney (left foreground) defers credit to others. He made his comments during a ceremony July 15 naming him and the late Wade Earl as first citizens to be commemorated in the Lake George firefighting ‘Walk of Honor.’ Hailing McKinney in the surprise award ceremony were (rear, left to right): Lake George Supervisor Dennis Dickinson, Fire Association of the State of NY (FASNY) CEO David Quinn, FASNY Firefighting Museum Executive Director Jamie Quinn, Lake George Mayor Bob Blais, and Barbara McKinney McGuirk, president of the Lake George Fire Department.
Dozens of local citizens gathered Monday July 15 to honor two local firefighters who together devoted well more than 100 years to the Lake George Fire Department and other community organizations.
Robert McKinney and the late Wayde Earl were both hailed for their longstanding dedication to the community, as a plaque commemorating their service was unveiled at the entrance of the Lake George firehall on Ottawa St..
This plaque, set in a stone monument beside the firehall walkway, is the debut memorial in the village’s new Walk of Honor.
Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said both Earl and McKinney had devoted most all of their adult years volunteering to protect the lives and property of their fellow citizens, as well as serving on various other community organizations.
“Volunteers like Wayde and Bob spend many of their days in service, in training, plus contributing in other ways,” he said, noting that their sons and daughters have followed their example, serving the community in an exemplary fashion as well.
“A lot of communities across the nation would love to have citizens like the McKinneys and Earls,” he said.
Blais noted that Wayde Earl devoted years of his life to various community organizations, including the Lake George Rotary Club, the local American Legion post and Masonic Lodge, and the Lake George Historical Association, entities for which he held leadership roles.
Earl was also Lake George Town Supervisor from 1968 through 1969 and served as a village trustee in the early 1960s — as well as a stint as village justice.
During his lengthy tenure with the Lake George Fire Department, Earl served in various executive roles, including President and Chaplain. Earl, who died in 2009, served as president, trustee and convention chairman of the Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association, as well as an officer of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY).
Robert McKinney, now 78, has served the Lake George Fire Co. for 47 years, much of that time in various offices including Assistant Chief, Secretary, Vice President and Director.
McKinney and Earl served for consecutive decades on the of both FASNY board of directors and as a trustee overseeing the FASNY firefighters’ home in Hudson NY, which serves up to 90 elderly firefighters hailing from across New York State.
FASNY’s CEO David Quinn said that Earl and McKinney had served the state’s citizenry with remarkable dedication.
“They broke the mold after these two men were made,” he said.
Jamie Quinn, a FASNY official who heads up the agency’s Museum of Firefighting, said McKinney had been like a “father figure” who guided the museum board through some troubled times years ago, and the facility rebounded due to his advice.
Wayde Earl’s widow, Margaret “Peg” Earl, 90, witnessed the Walk of Honor ceremony and offered her thoughts. She has been a member of the local fire company Auxiliary for 50 or 60 years.
“It’s really nice when your own people recognize you,” she said on behalf of her late husband. At a reception that followed, she recalled how their family life revolved around fire service.
“When the fire whistle blew, Wayde and our sons John and Earl would always race to get to the firehouse — they’d make it into a contest,” she said, noting that Wayde was the first president of the fire company when it became incorporated.
She also said, rolling her eyes, that Wayde had accumulated so many plaques, citations and trophies for his fire service that they enclosed their porch to hold them all — along with his beloved circus memorabilia.
Their son Todd, who has served in the Lake George Fire Department for 25 years —including several years as Fire Chief — recalled his father’s dedication. Just a matter of hours before Wayde Earl died in his sleep at the age of 89, he was out in Shepard Park selling raffle tickets to benefit the fire company, Todd Earl said.
“My dad carried through his commitment to fire service as long as he could move,” he said. Todd’s brother John Earl has served for 45 years in the local fire company, fulfilling the duties of Fire Chief from 1979 to 1983. He’s also now Deputy Mayor of the village. Their sister Nancy has been active in the Auxiliary for 25 years or more.
Prior to move to Lake George in 1966, McKinney served in the West Glens Falls Fire Co. for nearly a dozen years. In the mid-1990s, McKinney served as a town board member, and he has been bestowed with a number of firefighting honors, including Hudson Valley Firemen’s Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the agency’s first ever granted. He was also named 1992 Lake George Citizen of the Year by the village board.
Like his cohort Wayde, Robert McKinney’s family life was immersed in fire service, recalled his daughter Barbara McKinney McGuirk, who was named the local fire department’s first female president in its lengthy history. She also is a recruiting official for FASNY.
“Growing up, our social life revolved around the fire company,” she said, noting that as children, she and her siblings started off by selling raffle tickets. “Those were the very best years — we had a ton of fun.”
Barbara’s mother (and Bob’s wife) Marie served 50 years in the fire company Auxiliary, and sister Joan Sady, now clerk for the Warren County Board of Supervisors, has also been active in the fire service.
Brother Thomas McKinney is past chief of the fire department, and is now Secretary — and he’s followed in his father’s footsteps as a Trustee of the FASNY firefighters’ home. Sister Patty McKinney Schuster is Secretary of the Auxiliary, and sister Donna McKinney Engle is also an active member. Various McKinney grandchildren are active in Junior Auxiliary organizations.
Besides recalling helping fight the major fires that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s in the village, Robert McKinney noted he was the only firefighter to serve in Lake George’s three consecutive fire halls.
“It’s been a good ride,” he said.
Lake George Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson said the dedication of both Wayde Earl and Robert McKinney was unsurpassed, and their families carried on the admirable tradition.
“Both of these men have been really committed to their fellow citizens,” he said. “And they’ve passed on their strong community-minded values to all their family members.”