(Photo by John Cook) The men of the Fairgrove Fire Department are shown with members of the Vassar chapter of 100 + Women Who Care, who donated $8,600 to the firefighters to buy new helmets and hoods. Women (from left) are Monica Whitburn, Andrea Legue, Michelle Atwood, Sarah Seiter, Mary Ann Stedry and Wendy Brown. Doug Young, Fairgrove fire chief, is shown in front, between Seiter and Stedry.

‘100 +’ women’s gift adds up in Fairgrove

Once again, the Vassar chapter of 100+ Women Who Care have extended their generosity beyond Vassar – this time to the Fairgrove Fire Dept.

“Knowing the impact we are making in the Thumb of Michigan is an awesome feeling and a true blessing,” said Mary Ann Stedry, co-founder of the Vassar group, after it donated $8,600 so Fairgrove firefighters can buy 20 new helmets and flame-retardant hoods that protect against carcinogens.

Vassar group members meet quarterly, choosing a recipient of their donations from among three applicants drawn at random. The Vassar group formed in 2016, intending to help the Thumb region and sometimes donating to causes outside the Vassar area – a fact appreciated by Doug Young, Fairgrove’s fire chief, whose department was chosen to receive the funds June 12.

“We were quite surprised and super happy,” Young said of the gift, noting former Fairgrove village official Ann Marie Ball suggested he ask the Vassar organization for help.

“(Ball) stopped me and asked me if I knew of the group, and I said, ‘Well, I was aware of the group because the organization was in The Advertiser a year or two ago, and the article talked about the group,’” Young said.

“She said she knew that I had told the village council that we needed to replace our fire helmets because they were past the 10-year mark, the point at which the (National Fire Protection Association) says we should have them replaced.

“A couple of the helmets were quite worn out. They were in a flashover when we assisted the Caro Fire Dept. a few years back, so they needed to be replaced, and those things aren’t cheap.”

Young said the new hoods protect against more than flames.

“They’re made of a double-wall material which helps keep cancer-causing (substances) away from the skin,” Young said.  “The hoods are a little thicker than what we previously had before, because they help keep the carcinogens that are in the smoke away from the body.

“There are so many carcinogens in smoke that the forehead, the neck and the wrist are (at greater risk) where those cancer agents can get into the body.”

Firefighters’ 20 helmets were purchased in 2003. The cost for new helmets and hoods is about $9,600, and the fire department will buy the gear by combining the Vassar women’s donation with money raised at department fish fries this year.

“So the money won’t even come out of the village budget,” Young said.

Fairgrove firefighters Nick Maguire, Pete Wood and Ryly Coleman represented the department at the June 12 meeting of the Vassar group.

“I have a really good group of guys and they’ve all been through the fire academy,” Young said. “So everybody’s trained at the Fire Fighter II level, which the state requires.”

Young, 65, joined the Fairgrove Fire Dept. in 1975, and has been with the organization for 44 years. Stedry said the firefighters’ made their cause a popular choice.

“They risk their own lives to save other people’s lives, such as complete strangers,” Stedry said. “So if this is going to help protect them and help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, it’s a win-win.”

The June donation increased the Vassar group’s total contributions to almost $100,000 since the group formed in 2016, according to Stedry.

Members chose the Fairgrove firefighters’ request over proposals from two other applicants selected randomly: the Fowler Center for Outdoor Learning near Mayville, which seeks bicycle helmets, a storage shed for kayaks and a new pontoon-boat motor; and the Vassar Downtown Development Authority, hoping to pay for artistic murals on buildings along South Main Street and for lights to string to and from roofs of buildings along that street.

The Vassar group counts 85 members, with each donating $100 quarterly to the chosen cause. The group meets again at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at Bullard Sanford Memorial Library in Vassar.

“Our group is to help the Thumb, so we would love to have people join from the surrounding communities such as Reese, Millington, Fairgrove and Caro,” Stedry said.

“Whenever we talk to a group that has received our donations, they say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve been fundraising for years and we haven’t made this kind of money. This took me 30 minutes and I gave a five-minute presentation and I won.’”

Stedry encouraged women to attend the Sept. 11 meeting, with no obligation to join the group.

“People who have never attended a meeting are really missing out,” Stedry said. “Even if they don’t want to join the group that night and they’re thinking about joining, I would encourage them to just come to a meeting and be a spectator.”

Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com.

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