Ladies Auxiliary Christmas Dinner, circa 1974
Six color photographs
Montauk Library Archives
Can you identify these members of the Ladies Auxiliary at their Christmas dinner at the Blue Marlin in, we think, 1974?
Twenty-eight women founded the Montauk Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary in 1949, mainly to provide food and water to volunteer firemen – mostly their husbands or fathers – when they returned to the stationhouse. Over the years the ladies came to play a pivotal role in the Montauk community as well as the fire department, organizing everything from visits from Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny for children to holiday dinners for senior citizens to fundraisers and blood drives.
None of which is to say that they didn’t also take the time to simply enjoy each other’s company. Photos in the Montauk Library’s archives show decades of the good women washing dishes and prepping food but also just plain horsing around, dressing up, clutching purses, exchanging gifts, and dining, drinking, and dancing, including at long- or recently-lost restaurants like Bill’s Inn and John Duck’s in addition to the Blue Marlin.
“We had a lot of fun,” said Beverly Kamensky, who, clocking 51 years this coming March, can boast of the longest active membership in the Montauk sisterhood. Originally, auxiliary members had to have a spouse or relative in the fire department to join; today the auxiliary is larger and perhaps less insular. Joan Lycke and Joan Drobecker helped talk Ms. Kamensky into joining back in 1971, she said, and she had a spouse as well as relatives – including her cousin Ronnie Paon, who has the longest membership, at 60-some years – in the fire department. “I like to do things for the community,” she said, although “I never wanted to be a chief — I always wanted to be an Indian.”
Auxiliary members support firefighters in what she described as a very professional way, taking sandwiches, water, and coffee to the firehouse or to the scene when requested, raising funds, and attending chiefs’ dinners and funerals. They also “help our own,” for instance sending cards when members or former members experience one of life’s milestones like a birthday or an illness. And at social occasions like the Christmas party, “we’ve always had a lot of laughs,” she said, in some cases exchanging silly gifts with “mystery sisters.”
With help from her friend Sheila Ray, Ms. Kamensky was able to identify many of the women in this week’s Throwback Thursday photos; they most likely include, very roughly, incompletely, and not always conclusively, from top left, clockwise:
Sheila Ray, Bev Kamensky, Elise Prado, Judy Darenberg, Pam Burke, Celeste Steil, Mary Jane Parenti, Joan Drobecker, Jean Lenahan, Joan Mueller, Ellen Johns, Rita Carroll, Ruth Edelstein, Alice Dougherty, and Marion Kelley – the last took many of the photographs at ladies auxiliary events, many of whose members, from Montauk’s earliest “colonists” to much newer arrivals who joined the group, were identified to accompany the photos in lovely penmanship.
In 2014, Myrna Syvertsen, a 25-year member of the auxiliary whom we lost this year, wrote with what sounded like real pride that the group had grown from its original 28 members and recently been invited to take part in drills and become more familiar with the department’s very serious emergency protocols. “All of the functions benefit our entire community and others,” she said.
“Mrs. Syvertsen … thought of its members as family,” said her obituary in the East Hampton Star, of the Montauk Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary.