Reprinted, with permission, from the Country Journal - October 26, 2006
By Lisa Connell
Event honors Fran Dresser
Folks just couldn't let him retire without a bash
GOSHEN – Retired Fire Chief Francis Dresser, a WW II veteran of the highly decorated 96th Infantry Division in the South Pacific and an admirer of General Douglas McArthur, has always said of his retirement as Goshen's Chief that he wants to simply fade away like an old soldier. Because he has done so much not only for Goshen during his 55 years of service, but for the emergency services in Hampshire County, and has inspired so many people to become firefighters, EMT's, paramedics, doctors and just better human beings, there was no way people would let him reture without a large bash.
Goshen's Ruth Dresser laughs as husband Francis gets a spontaneous hug from Dr. George Deering during Francis' retirement party Oct. 19. (Photo by Lisa Connell)
This large retirement party took place on October 19 at the Elks Lodge in Florence where over 150 people from all over Hampshire County came to wish him well. Among the participants were fire chiefs, firefighters and ambulance personnel, doctors from Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and lots of people from Goshen who have known him their entire lives.
Dresser said of the occasion, "I didn't know I had this many friends. I'm really overwhelmed. I appreciate it."
Of course, this party was not just for Dresser, but for his family since before the days of E-911 and effective radios, the dispatching in the Hilltowns was done by him and his family out of their home. Day and night someone from the family, either wife Ruth, or children Kim, Kip or Kit, were on hand to take a fire or ambulance call, often, as Cummington Fire Chief Bernie Forgea said, for the surrounding towns like Cummington or Plainfield. Many folks in those towns and others like Chesterfield and Ashfield owe much to the family who gave up their personal time for decades to serve their neighbors, all without pay.
Many who spoke referred to the parable of the blind man and the elephant, because Dresser was so many things to so many different people. He was a great father and husband, he was an innovative fire chief and ambulance director, he inspired people to serve their towns, and he did it all with good humor.
Son Kim Dresser said, "Dad's greatest joy was turning a kid around. He loved and still loves helping people out."
One of those people he helped inspire was Dr. George Deering, who became very emotional when he talked of Dresser's influence on his and his children's lives.
Current Goshen Fire Chief Sue Labrie said when she and her husband Robert moved to town, Francis came to them and invited them to join the Fire Department. He has mentored them and supported them ever since.
Ruth and Francis Dresser. (Photo by Lisa Connell)
Former Goshen minister Rev. Wayne Briggs, who gave the invocation and benediction, said when he was growing up, everyone wanted to either be a policeman or a fireman, and joked "For 55 years you got to do that. The rest of us grew up and got real jobs."
Briggs added, "When my boys were growing up I wanted them to recognize the heroes of their time," not empty headed movie stars or the rich and famous, but "the everyday heroes who every day got up and went to work, came home from work, then went out and did heroic deeds. People like you, Francis, and Ruth, who did heroic deeds every day."
Briggs also told of the most often repeated story of the night involving Goshen's Tom Barrus. Briggs said, "Tom Barrus comes to your [Dresser's] house and you want to eat dinner so bad that you listen to him for 45 minutes, and then you ask him, "Tom, you must have come here for some reason?" And Tom says yes, "I have a chimney fire down at the farm. I need you to come and put it out."
"Well, it was out by the time the fire department got there. And you know where Tom Barrus left his wife? Sitting in the house. He didn't tell her that it was going up."
He added that Francis and Ruth have inspired generations of people to become better men and women.
During the event, there was a fascinating slide show entitled, "Francis Dresser: Service, Loyalty and Love," where pictures of Dresser, his family and Goshen Fire Department and ambulance, were shown. There were pictures Chief Dresser when he was young with dark hair, photos of him and Ruth when they were young, and pictures of the way the fire department and ambulance service used to look.
Dresser was and is an innovator, helping bring the fire and ambulance service into the modern era and making it the best in the Hilltowns. Dresser said, "I don't think I ever got in a rut. I tried to be openminded. You have to change with the times."
When he started out, the town's first ambulance was called "The Green Beetle," and by all accounts was an interesting experience to ride in. And in those days things were less complicated, "When we started out we didn't need insurance. We were just trying to help people. We weren't going to sue."
Of cource, while Francis Dresser has retired as chief, he said, "I'm still going to be involved in things," and so will his family who have many more years of selfless service to the town and Hilltowns on the way.
(Thursday, October 26, 2006)