While you won’t see current members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Secaucus Exempt Firemen’s Association donning the traditional red hat, cape, and white dress once worn during parades, you will see a renewed interest in resurrecting the organization’s traditions of bringing firefighters’ wives and relatives together for charitable causes.
Since last year’s pancake breakfast to recruit new and younger members, the Ladies Auxiliary’s membership increased from 12 to 19 women and organizers expect to continue the trend with this year’s Valentine’s Day breakfast planned for Sunday, Feb. 12 at the Washington Hook and Ladder Firehouse.
A symbol of camaraderie
“We had a member that just died and she wanted to be buried in [the dress], and she was,” said Connie Schoenrock, vice president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary. She is married to Fire Chief George Schoenrock, who has served as a volunteer firefighter for 49 years. Although Connie has been a Ladies’ Auxiliary member for at least 30 years, she never wore the traditional red hat and cape but she said that the outfit holds a special place in older members’ memories. The outfit was typically worn during town parades that were once held more often throughout the year.
“We had these horse drawn carriages that we sat in and it was nice.” – Connie Schoenrock
One of the original dresses will go into the new town museum. Founded in 1934, the Ladies’ Auxiliary has long been a social and charitable organization with ties to the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department.
The dress was a symbol of the camaraderie and closeness that existed between the members of the Auxiliary who gathered often for social events including card parties. They also showed up together during fires to serve coffee, hot cocoa, tea, soup, donuts, and cookies to firefighters.
In the past two years the Ladies’ Auxiliary has returned to march in parades in horse-drawn carriages.
“Even though we don’t have an official uniform…the Ladies did participate,” Schoenrock said. “We had these horse-drawn carriages that we sat in and it was nice. Last year we had members marching besides the members riding in the carriages.”
Changing of the guard
At its peak, the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Secaucus Exempt Firemen’s Association probably included as many as 40 or 50 members. But like many such organizations over the years, membership in the Ladies’ Auxiliary waxed and waned. In recent years, as the average age of the organization’s members has increased and the responsibilities of running the group’s activities have fallen on the same members year after year.
Schoenrock said that with the latest recruitment efforts, she believes there are a number of women who are ready to take on the reigns. In order to increase membership, the organization opened membership to anyone who is a relative of a firefighter.
“We are getting younger [members] now,” said Schoenrock. She said the Auxiliary now has members in their twenties and thirties and may have a new member coming on board as young as 19 who happens to be the granddaughter of a firefighter.
“The president and I have decided that this will be our last year and we will let other [members] learn the ropes and take over for us,” said Schoenrock. She said that a term of office is typically two years but that both Jane Olsen, the president, and herself have been in office 10 years.
Elections will take place in November.
The Ladies’ Auxiliary raises money for the New Jersey Firemen’s Home, a retirement and nursing facility in Boonton for former paid and volunteer firefighters. The home, which first opened its doors in 1898, houses about 60 to 70 elderly residents. In the past, money raised has helped purchase such items as new bedspreads or to help with building improvements.
Two retired firefighters from Secaucus currently reside at the Boonton Home, including Charles Kochka and the father of Olsen, Jacob Blatz.
All the firefighters in the Boonton home get birthday cards from the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Schoenrock said that since 1995, they get a list of each member every year.
“We don’t forget about them,” said Schoenrock.
On Sunday, Feb. 12, the Ladies’ Auxiliary will hold a Valentine’s Day Breakfast Fundraiser at Washington Hook and Ladder on County Avenue in Secaucus from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. The funds raised from the breakfast will go towards social activities and the ongoing support of the Boonton Home.
Schoenrock said last year’s event raised $2,000.
Schoenrock said that firefighter Raymond Cieciuch is really behind the effort to resurrect the Ladies’ Auxiliary and rejuvenate the organization by hosting events like the pancake breakfast. She said that Cieciuch is instrumental in getting food donations for the breakfast. The group accepts eggs, pancake mix, Taylor ham, breakfast sausage, bacon, home fries, bread, butter, milk, cake, cookies, milk, tea, juice and paper goods. The firefighters from Washington Hook and Ladder do all the cooking.
“Come one, come all,” Schoenrock said. “If you are related to a firefighter, you’ll have a ball.”
To buy tickets for the pancake breakfast, $10 for adults, $5 for children and seniors, contact President Jane Olsen: (201) 330-9147. To donate food items, contact Raymond Cieciuch: (201) 376-6819.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.