GLENDORA, NJ (Nov. 14,2019)--When Syl McNamee blows out the candles on his 90th birthday cake this month, he’ll be doing the same thing he’s done for over five decades: helping to serve the Gloucester Township community as a volunteer at Glendora Fire Company.
First joining the station 51 years ago as a firefighter, today McNamee helps out in other ways as an administrative volunteer. He says staying active in the community through the fire company keeps him young and he hopes more people will follow his example and volunteer at the station too.
Dedicated to the Community
The decision to join the fire company was an easy one for McNamee. He lived and worked one street away from the station and simply followed in the family footsteps.
“My brother John was in before me,” he said on first joining the company in 1968. “He had a business on Seventh Avenue down at the bottom of the street. I worked there. It started with him being involved with it. And then I just came and joined and have been active ever since.”
The fire station in those days had a deep bench of volunteers ready to help. Volunteering in the community was something seemingly everyone did in their spare time. “There were a lot of volunteers here. I would say we probably had about 30 active guys. We always showed up. There wasn’t a thought that no one would show up,” said McNamee.
When he wasn’t at work or the fire station, McNamee was helping the community in other ways. He was a regular volunteer at church and in Little League for 13 years. He also spent time with his wife, Peggy, and their five children.
Over the years, the Glendora community changed. With busier schedules and less free time, fewer and fewer residents began replenishing the ranks at the fire company. “It’s not the same. It’s hard to get volunteers. It’s really hard to get volunteers,” said McNamee. “When I was young there was always enough guys who showed up. Then again, during my time, my wife didn’t work. She was with the kids. Now we have a problem with guys saying ‘oh, I can’t be there until later because I have to wait until my wife gets home from work.’ It’s a whole different world out there today.”
McNamee said he’s stayed on at the fire company because he enjoys helping others and interacting with the other members. “I enjoyed the company to start with. The people. All my life I’ve tried to stay young,” he said. “With the young kids today, I try to joke around with them and try to be on their level. I’m the kind of person, if I’m walking out of Walmart, I’ll say ‘hi, how are you doing?’ to someone walking by.”
It’s been about 30 years since McNamee says he last fought a fire, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking the 30 minute drive from Franklinville to still find ways to help at Glendora. As an
administrative volunteer, there are plenty of ways volunteers can help that don’t require going into a burning building. After he hung up the fire hose, McNamee began running the company bingo game for the community. “I enjoy the people. And a lot of those people are my age. We play bingo. We clown around with them. We’re very friendly,” he said.
He’s also represents the fire company on the Gloucester Township Firemen's Relief Association. The organization benefits fire company members facing financial trouble and offers death benefits to the families of fire company members.
To the men and women who have served at the fire station with him, McNamee represents among the best that the Glendora community has to offer. “We owe a great debt of thanks to Syl McNamee,” said Glendora Chief Michael Ricciardelli. “He’s served this fire company and this community for decades and we are lucky to have him. Happy birthday, Syl!”
Outside of the company, McNamee enjoys spending time with family. He and Peggy celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary this past September. The secret to the couple’s happy marriage rests on the fact that “my wife likes old stuff,” he joked. Having lived in Glendora for decades, he and Peggy now live with their daughter in Franklinville.
McNamee also likes to stay fit. About two to three times a year he’ll compete in a local 5K race. Once during a race in Franklinville he earned a trophy for being the oldest participant in the race. He says he usually walks the race at about a 17 minute mile pace.
“Not bad for an old guy.”
Volunteering at the fire station is something McNamee has always loved and he encouraged others to join him. Send him a birthday gift this year by becoming a firefighter in Gloucester Township. It’s a great way to serve the community, learn new skills, no previous experience is necessary and it’s free to join. Learn more by going to FirefightersofGloucesterTwp.org. Firefighting is our passion. Volunteering is our tradition. Make it yours.