Long-time firefighters honored for service
The guests of honor – Don and Dan Hellwinkel and Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen – became suspicious when their relatives started showing up at the Minden fire station Saturday night for what they believed was to be a routine dinner.
When Gov. Bob Miller slipped in the door just as the main course was being served by Douglas High School cheerleaders, the secret was out.
The Hellwinkels and Jacobsen were honored Saturday night by their fellow volunteers for 50 years of service each to the Douglas County Engine Co.
“I was dumfounded,” said Jacobsen. “When I saw my family showing up here, I thought ‘what the heck is going on?'”
The governor nearly spoiled the surprise on Friday when he saw Jacobsen and his wife Betty.
“We saw him at a function and he said to me, ‘See you tomorrow night.’ Betty went, ‘Shhhh,'” Jacobsen said with a laugh. “I asked Betty if I ought to wear a necktie.”
“I’m humbled and honored by the award,” Jacobsen said.
Miller presented the plaques to the honorees in the presence of their families, friends and other volunteers.
Miller reminded Jacobsen that when the Minden state senator began his legislative career in the Assembly in 1963, the governor was just graduating from high school.
“With all that activity, you still managed to donate 50 years to the Douglas County Engine Co.,” Miller said. “You’ve got the longest legislative service on record and you will go down as one of the truly great legislators.”
Miller complimented the Hellwinkels on their combined 100 years of service, praising Dan for his courage and leadership and Don for his dedication as well as service for other organizations like the National Pony Express Foundation.
“That kind of dates you,” the governor joked.
Miller stayed long enough for a salad and to have his picture taken with a few of the guests of honor’s grandchildren.
“Between the three of them, if they can devote almost 150 years to the fire department, then, hopefully I can fit in an hour to recognize them for what they’ve done,” Miller said.
“It’s a real credit to our state that the governor would stop by,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen said the volunteer system started in 1927 as a matter of preservation for small communities which lacked full-time fire protection. Douglas County has nearly perfected the system with 11 volunteer departments in Carson Valley and three paid departments at the Lake, he said.
“If the fire whistle blew right now, everybody in this room would drop what they’re doing and go,” he said.
Mike Fischer was master of ceremonies for the evening and invited guests to share their memories of the Hellwinkels’ and Jacobsen’s service to the fire department.
Volunteer Henry Dreyer, who helped organize the dinner and arranged the governor’s visit, said the meal was paid for by money raised through the department’s cadet program firewood sale.
“They’re great people,” he said of the guests of honor and all the volunteers.
“It’s hard to get volunteers today,” Dreyer said. “Everybody’s got other things to do. We’re always looking for new members.”