Last week, at the awards ceremony for the Sherman Central School, more than 100 recognitions were presented to members of the graduating class. Among these was the Bus Bradley Memorial Award, an honor with special meaning for the little village of Findley Lake.
Though George "Bus" Bradley passed away more than a quarter century ago, the impact he had on his beloved hometown is still felt today.
Bus served as the chief of the Findley Lake Volunteer Fire Department for more than 40 years, longer than any other New York State chief at that time. In addition, he also held the post of Highway Superintendent and was involved in every aspect of community life. He was known across the region as Mr. Findley Lake.
When young Bus joined the fire department in 1939, he was following a family tradition. Both Bus' grandfather, Byron, and his father, Rollie, had been active in the department and each had served as fire chief. At the ripe old age of 19, and only a year after he joined, Bus was elected chief. He continued to hold the post until his death.
In 1969, when our family moved to Findley Lake, Bus Bradley was among the first in the community to welcome us.
When he told us of the fire department's need for volunteers, both George and I quickly joined. For many years, we had the privilege of being part of that special team of folks who give their time to protect their neighbors.
In 1986, Bus became gravely ill at home. His mother, Katie, called the rescue squad. I was on the ambulance that responded and was able to hold my old friend's hand on the way to the hospital in Erie.
Bus was a big man with a big heart. But on that long-ago night, his big heart simply gave out.
His death was a blow to the entire town. And, for those of us in his fire department family, the loss of this larger-than-life leader was especially devastating.
A few weeks later, we held a special meeting to discuss how to honor our long-time chief. The decision was made to use the incoming donations to establish a Bus Bradley Memorial Award.
Since the area children were especially important to Bus, the award would be presented each year to an outstanding graduate from each of the two neighboring schools - Clymer Central and Sherman Central.
As I recall, the first recipient of the award from Clymer was Becky Jude - who became Mrs. Dennis Jones. She was preparing to enter nursing school, and we knew Bus would have been the first to encourage her education.
This year, sadly, the Bus Bradley Memorial has come to the end of its funds. Since the 2013 award will be the last given in Bus' name, the presentation was especially poignant.
Last week, when the award ceremony took place, my old pal and former firefighter Howard Raven served as Master of Ceremonies.
Findley Lake's current Fire Chief, who happens to be my terrific son-in-law Jack Hamilton, presented the Bus Bradley Award. It went to Jeremy Seekings.
The honor was especially fitting for Seekings, who has been serving as a Junior Fireman and plans to continue with the department. In addition, he comes from a firefighting family. Both his grandfather, Ray Keith, and grandmother, Mary Lou Keith, have been active members of the Findley Lake Fire Department for many years.
In recognition of Seekings' involvement in the fire service, the Bradley Award Committee gave him a special plaque to go with his award. The plaque honors Seekings for "following in Bus' footsteps."
Surely, on that special night, Chief Bus Bradley was smiling down from above.