Putnam County Operation Life celebrated 35 years of service to the county Saturday night with its annual banquet. While the actual 35th anniversary came last fall, the active and alumni employees used the evening as a chance to reflect on the organization's history.
Although the banquet happens every year, it is only every fifth year that alumni are also involved.
"Thirty-five years ago, we struck the tones that set in motion a collaborative effort between community activists and university students," said Leon Bell in his opening remarks.
Bell, who was honored for 35 years with OL on Saturday, is the only remaining original member of Operation Life. While he started out as a DePauw student volunteer in 1974, he is now the director of the paramedic sciences program at IUPUI.
He also continues riding at Operation Life one weekend a month.
Operation Life grew out of the DePauw Fire Company, which was founded in the late 1960s by a group of students interested in serving the community. As a movement began around the country toward emergency medical services, the volunteers made a move to purchase an ambulance for $14,000.
But these DePauw students weren't just serving the campus community. They weren't even just serving Greencastle. If a call came in from anywhere in the county -- from Cataract to Russellville -- Operation Life was en route.
"When DePauw is now emphasizing community service, this was one of the biggest areas of community service when a group of DePauw students decided they wanted to provide an ambulance, not only to DePauw, but to Greencastle and to Putnam County," current OL director Kraig Kinney said.
After 35 years, OL has grown a bit. The organization now has 50 employees, 60 percent of whom are paid. There are stations in Greencastle, Cloverdale and Bainbridge.
"I heard that our original ambulance was $14,000 in price," Kinney said. For those of you who haven't priced an ambulance in a while, our newest ambulance was about 10 times that in price -- $135,000."
The DePauw connection also remains strong, though. Kinney, who started as a student volunteer 19 1/2 years ago, now instructs an EMT course for DePauw winter term each year. Every year, a number of these students go on to become volunteers for the organization.
The combination of paid employees and volunteers were at the heart of Saturday's celebration, as a number of yearly awards were handed out, including a brand new award.
Six special people were honored with the Doug Crichlow Stars of Life. Crichlow is another of the Operation Life originals who served until he passed away in 1996. Six awards will be handed out each year because of the six points on the Star of Life. Crichlow's widow Susie and daughter Jenny, along with Derick Werner, another founding member of Operation Life as well as the DePauw Fire Company, were on hand to hand out the inaugural awards.
The six Stars of Life for 2010 are Dave Costin, who has been a director of 911 since the 1980s; Jessica Petticord, serving since 1997; Mike Houston, serving since 1995; Mike Smith, serving since 2007; Chris Lien, serving since 2006; and Seong Park, serving since 2008.
Volunteer service awards went to Daniel Hendry, Houston, Garrett McCarthy, Matthew Nance, Meg Soultz, Nathan Sparks and Anya Woodruff. Nance and Soultz were also honored as DePauw graduates.
Several people were also honored for their years of service to the organization: Brandon Funk (5 years), Lynn Williams (10 years), Houston (15 years), Jerry Cox (20 years) and Bell (35 years).
Finally, a number of special awards were given. Wanda Twigg was honored for her recent retirement, while Adam Davies received the Team Member Award and Dawn Broughton received the Hall of Fame Award.
The night concluded with a half-hour video filmed and edited by DePauw student Allysa Jewell. It chronicled Operation Life's history while also highlighting the service these men and women still provide to the community, responding at all hours of the day and night, no matter what else might be happening.
Near the end of the program, a very real reminder of this came as several current OL employees, all clad in their work uniforms, got up and quickly walked out -- responding to yet another emergency.