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Neighbors: A time to thank first responders

Rod and Robin Turner may have the record for attending The Hundred Club Banquets, having missed only one – and they sent their daughter and son-in-law to that one. The club supports first responders and their families in times of loss and in helping their children attend college.

By Ann Butler

Neighbors columnist

First responders are around our community prepared to protect and serve, but how often do we stop to thank them for that service?

The Hundred Club dedicates one evening a year to do just that, and it held its banquet Nov. 17 at the Henry Strater Theatre.

The club works simply, yet profoundly. Its name comes from the amount members pay in dues each year. That ensures the club has money to help in the event of loss of life or injury of first responders or their family members within 72 hours of the incident. The speed – it’s often the same day – and the personal delivery let the suffering families know the community is supporting them at a difficult time in their lives.

In recent years, the club has achieved a financial stability that allows it to also give scholarships to first responders’ children to Fort Lewis, San Juan and Southwest Colorado Community colleges.

The Fire of 1974, when firefighter Nick Parks III and Durango Police Department Cpl. Gale Emerson died while helping residents of the six historic buildings in the middle of the 800 block of Main Avenue evacuate, served as the inspiration for the club. (The Main Mall is at the site of the fire.) Community leader Doug Morrison saw the need and soon had recruited members to help kick it off.

Which brings me to the event. Club President Jerry Martinez served as master of ceremonies, thanking longtime legal counsel Denny Ehlers and Michael McLachlan, especially McLachlan, who is stepping down, as well as former Board Presidents Don Mapel, Jasper Welch and Dean Brown for their service.

The place was hopping with representatives from La Plata County agencies, including those who spoke on behalf of their departments – Interim Chief Lynn Johnson of the Durango Police Department, Chief Hal Doughty of the Durango Fire Protection District, Sheriff Sean Smith of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, Fire Marshal Tom Kaufman of the Upper Pine Fire Protection District and Maj. George Dingselder, commander of the Colorado State Patrol District 5, who traveled from Alamosa for the festivities.

In addition to dues, the organization was the recipient of four fundraisers during the year.

Since their restaurant was destroyed in a major fire in 2008, where nine firefighters were injured, Seasons Rotisserie & Grill owners Karen and Wayne Barger have held Burnin’ Down the House on the fire’s anniversary. All proceeds from the two seatings go to The Hundred Club, and it is a happening, fun evening.

Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, dedicated the True West Rodeo held on Sept. 11 to first responders and donated the day’s proceeds to the club. Jeff Murray, owner of Durango Harley, has held a variety of events benefiting the Hundred Club over the years, including this year.

And Gaige Sippy, executive director of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, was acknowledged for a donation from the classic to the club.

Martinez also recognized Rod and Robin Turner, who have attended every banquet – except one, when they made sure to send their daughter and son-in-law, Laurel and David Waller. Martinez also pointed out Kaufman and wife, Cheryl, whose two daughters were the first recipients of Hundred Club scholarships. The scholarships, by the way, are not chump change – $1,000 per semester as long as a student maintains grade point averages and is in good standing.

Amber Harwig represented the students who are currently scholarship holders. Others in attendance included Ariel Turner, Colton Walton and Caitlin Martin.

Because the banquet also serves as the annual meeting, Mapel gave a financial report, Julie Holligan Westendorff presented the scholarship recipients and Eric Hjermstad updated the club on membership. (They added 20 new members that evening, a good tally.)

To join the Hundred Club in its efforts to support first responders, send your $100 (or more is always good) per person check to the club at P.O. Box 3146, Durango, CO 81302; or donate online at www.durango100club.com.

When something major happens to the family of a public servant, one of the things they should not worry about is paying the immediate bills. The Hundred Club is there to eliminate that worry so the family can focus on healing.


Check back at durangoherald.com for more Neighbors stories and photos. Click on the word “Neighbors” to make sure you haven’t missed any stories. Neighbors runs in the Sunday print edition of The Durango Herald.

Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items. Follow me on Twitter @Ann_Neighbors.

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