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The Versailles Republican

August 21, 2014 • Headlines

The Friendship Vol. Fire Department is pictured above responding to a local farm fire.
The department will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Saturday, Aug. 30.

Margaret Mary Health partnered with East Indiana Area Health Education Center to allow 10 local students an opportunity to participate in the Medical Scholars Academy. For a detailed list of names and more information, pick up The Versailles Republican at your local newsstand.
Pictured above is a live fire training exercise at Friendship Vol. Fire Dept. with new members at the time Tony Ryle,
Brian Meyer, Steve Lovins, Jeff Owens and David Tebbing.

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100 years of service!
Friendship Vol. Fire Dept. to celebrate volunteers, community

Tatijana Marsee

For 18 months Friendship Volunteer Fire Department has been planning what President Gary Thomas states will be the “big party in Friendship!” The fire department is celebrating their 100 year anniversary on Saturday, August 30.

Friendship Volunteer Fire Department
Pictured left is the Friendship Volunteer Fire Department. The department not only puts out fires but assists at vehicle accidents, as shown in this photo taken during the Friendship Shoot a few years ago.

Anyone who has lived in Friendship for sometime knows the fire department has long been an integral part of the community.

Years ago, the firehouse served as the social center in Friendship, with bingo, birthday parties and dinners held regularly there, and so it’s appropriate to once again use the building to draw in the community. The anniversary celebration will be an opportunity for the fire department to show off their equipment and building, but moreover, as a way to thank the dedicated firefighters and the community for their support. There will be an open house beginning at 2 p.m., with food, music and much more.

The fire department was actually founded by a group of 15 businessman and women concerned about fire protection for the town and surrounding area. Initially, annual dues funded the operation and helped purchase a small fire pump. Today, operations are funded by township contracts and the fundraising efforts of the firemen.

As Thomas acknowledged, Friendship Vol. Fire Dept. has come a long way since 1914. In the beginning and for many years, Friendship VFD did not have a firehouse and so the equipment was parked in the chief’s basement. The first firehouse was completed in 1946 and then an addition was completed in 1961. Over the years, the equipment changed and became larger. For example, warning lights that usually went on top of the truck had to be mounted on special brackets that placed them in front of the windshields because ceilings were not tall enough. The building was so tight that the water tanker stored at the old firehouse had to remain loaded with water. Without the weight of the water compressing the springs, the truck would not fit in the building. On one occasion, enough water leaked from the tank and the truck was stuck until more water was loaded.

For many years, there was no protective clothing for the volunteers. Some of the first gear consisted of hip boots and long coats, which made it difficult to bend over; however today, they have full firefighting attack gear. There was no formal training years ago for volunteers, and they are proud that they were one of the first departments to have first responders in 1993 and extrication equipment. The organization also started a cadet program for those age 16 to spark interest in the community volunteer program. About 15 years ago, a new firehouse was built at the west end of town with multiple grants from community foundations and Build Indiana funds.

Generational support
Today, Friendship Volunteer Fire Department has 21 active firefighters and four active retired firefighters responding to an average of 120 calls per year. Friendship VFD is rich with tradition. One of the most noteworthy is that many of the firemen are following their father's or grandfather's footsteps. On the current roster, 12 firefighters represent the second or third generation serving with the Friendship VFD. Over the years, Friendship Volunteer Fire Department has had many dedicated members. Since 1914, over 200 men and women have been members of this organization. Several of these have served over 50 years. It is hard to put this in perspective: the dedication, service, sacrifice and contribution of these individuals over the years.

An open house will kick off the 100 year anniversary celebration starting at 2 p.m. Then at 4 p.m., a ceremony will be held followed by a freewill-offering dinner of smoked pork chops and fried chicken. A dance will begin at 7 p.m. with music provided by Centerline from 7-11 p.m. Who knows, a square dance might even break out sometime during the evening.

The celebration ceremony will feature several guest speakers including State Rep. Randy Frye, a former firefighter himself. The Indiana State Fire Marshal will recognize this milestone with a small presentation, and the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association will recognize several members for their years of service. There will be plenty of activities for children to partake in during the celebration. There will be cornhole and a balloon man, as well as smokehouse to go through. The department will be showing off their latest equipment and trucks at the anniversary celebration. They currently have two pumpers, one used for extrication as well, 1600 gallon tanker, an equipment trailer, 1996 medical first response truck and a 1996 brush truck. Years ago, Friendship had an old hand pumper, which will be on display , and one of the very first trucks, a 1946 Chevrolet pumper, has been repainted and restored specifically for the celebration.

Members are excited to share their success and longevity with the community, and they hope to see many people at the anniversary celebration on Saturday, Aug. 30. There is no charge but ask for a freewill offering for the dinner. Regular fundraising dinners are every second Sunday of the month from October through April. Breakfasts are held the same day from 8-10 a.m. and dinners are held from 11 am.- 1 p.m. To learn more about Friendship Volunteer Fire Department, visit the department's celebration Facebook page at

Watermelon reunion

Comers want to bring back old-fashioned fun

Mary Mattingly

A local family is honoring their father’s memory and in doing so, bringing back a simpler time. As Mark Comer says, anybody who has been around Versailles or Osgood since the 1980s and prior probably remembers the Comer Watermelon Day, which was always held the Saturday before Labor Day. That’s when 800 of their family and “closest friends” gathered on their front lawn to enjoy watermelon, music, sunshine and good times. His father, Arthur Comer, started the tradition in 1964 and continued every year for 35 years.
DeWitt Bowers


Pictured left, DeWitt Bowers was the official melon slicer, using WW II knives. His son will carry on the tradition Saturday, Aug. 30 at the Comer Watermelon Reunion.

“A lot of people will remember going,” Comer said. It was his dad’s thing, something he enjoyed doing, despite the effort. “Mom wasn’t as crazy about it. I mean who wants 800 people on their front lawn!”

The tradition ended when Art passed away in 1989 at the age of 75; however, Art’s six children decided its time to remember his legacy and have a Watermelon Reunion. Afterall, the 55 great-grandchildren don’t know what they missed! So, on Saturday, Aug. 30, everyone is invited to the Edith Comer family farm, three miles west of Osgood on Fairgrounds Road, to enjoy free watermelon, music and “old-fashioned fun,” as Mark Comer says. Edith is 95 years old, in good health and still resides at the homestead.

“I think Dad was always proud that so many people would come when not even alcohol was served,” Neil Comer, the second oldest sibling, said. It became a favorite mini festival for many people and always marked on the calendar. Apparently, if you provide melons and music, they will come! I remember when I was maybe 10 years old and there was nothing but people on our front lawn, and it was odd because across the road it was just corn stalks. There was never a charge, and they supplied some 150 watermelons. We had to get them cold; so, we loaded them into a locker plant in Osgood and then carried them in, and two days later carried them out. It was cold and I was barefooted!” Neil said.

His dad, an auctioneer, liked to play the fiddle and would often get on stage with the other musicians. One year he invited the Versailles senior citizens band to play, “and we couldn’t get them off the stage!” Neil recalled

Many memories were made of kids sleeping in the tunnels they created with the haystacks afterward, of games played at dusk and traditional music. Mark recalled moving an old upright piano on the make-shift stage of two wagons. Of course, few forget the time they lost a drummer. Seems the drummer, of the senior citizen band, keeled over on stage in the middle of the act. “They took him away, and we weren’t sure what to do next, but then decided to start up the band! That’s what Tater would have wanted!” Neil said, and laughed at the memory. One year his dad decided he wanted all the grandchildren on stage and provided them with harmonicas to play. It was not the most melodious sound, as no one knew how to play. In his honor, Neil ordered over 50 harmonicas for the next generation to play this year.

Besides eating, the watermelons will be put to more use. There will be a watermelon seed spitting contest at 6:30, followed by melon passing. The watermelon will be served at 6:30 p.m. Music starts at 7 p.m. by Kaitlin and Mitchell Harrell, Austin Bradley, Gary Norman, Tim Howder, Vaughn McGuire, Neil Comer, Janine Crandall and the 55 grandkids. The Tennessee-Indiana pickers and other bands will play too and in between they’ll give tribute to their dad with the “Auctioneer” song and later Hee Haw song with special guest “Miss Tush” who will be part of a funny skit they did years ago and will bring back this year. One of the highlights for the kids is the cowboy and Indian “shootin’ and dyin’ contest" where kids get play guns and act out a gunfight.

DeWitt Bowers of Osgood was their official melon cutter then, and Vaughn Bowers will continue the honors using the WW II knives his dad did. Afterwards, they’ll clean up and give the melon rinds to the hogs. The Comers, four boys and two girls, invite everyone to attend and enjoy a day of old-fashioned fun.

Pick up this week's edition of The Versailles Republican for the stories below and more local news. Subscribe by clicking the subscribe link or call 812-689-6364.

• Versailles proceeds to annex properties
• Driving school complaints investigated
• MainSource donates to National FFA Foundation (section B, page 2)

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