(HOST) Listening to President Obama promote volunteerism, has reminded commentator Bill Seamans that northern New England has a long tradition of pitching in for a good cause – and he has an example that dates back to the turn of the last century.
(SEAMANS) National Volunteer Week passed on the calendar last week and it seems that its celebration was overwhelmed by the noise rising from other deliberations in Washington. Last Tuesday, however, President Barack Obama did take some time out from his seemingly frenetic schedule to honor volunteerism when he signed legislation to triple the size of the Americorps program – and he called upon we the people to volunteer to improve our communities. Comment from the pundits’ pulpit said that Obama had, in effect, extended John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps legacy by enacting a new law expanding the government’s role in promoting and paying for Americans to restore parks, tutor children and help communities struck by natural disasters. Calling for a new surge of volunteerism, President Obama said, "We need your service right now, at this moment in history – I’m asking you to stand up and play your part."
The President’s call reminded me of a very special example of that special ingredient of the New England character called volunteerism – the willingness to help someone in need without expecting anything in return.
Have you ever heard of the Spofford Busy Bees – well, if you haven’t – lend me your ears. For this tale we must leave Vermont and cross the river over to Spofford, New Hampshire. It was back in nineteen-oh-two that a group of Spofford women thought it was about time the village had a fire engine or fire pumper or whatever it was called back then. And like noble women everywhere, they said "enough talk" and did something about it – and they became a stellar example of volunteerism that President Barack Obama could well have noted last week.
They whomped up such a wicked storm of quilt-making and cake-baking and knitting that they were called – yes – they were called the Spofford Busy Bees. Their sales were so successful that as word spread, so many horse-drawn buggies dropped by with customers that another volunteer group emerged from among the men – who called themselves ‘the village shovelers’. Eventually, the Spofford Busy Bees were able to present the menfolk with a man-drawn hand-pumper and thus was born the Spofford, New Hampshire, Fire Department.
To thank the ladies, the volunteer firefighters honored them by adopting their name, the Spofford Busy Bees – and they wore a shoulder patch adorned with the picture of a very busy bee wearing a fireman’s helmet and dragging a hose – and with a very determined look, flying to quench the flames of adversity. The emblem also was carried on their fire trucks – four of which stand in the bays of a new two-million-dolllar state-of-the-art fire station which you can see on route 9 about halfway between Brattleboro and Keene – all started over a hundred years ago by volunteers – the Spofford Busy Bees.