ROXBURY, NJ – Driven by thankfulness for the way Roxbury firefighters and medical crews helped his elderly father years ago, a man who donated in December to Roxbury Fire Co. #1 has now provided the firehouse with money for a scholarship fund.
The man, Gary Lynch, recently presented the fire station on Main Street with $1,000, directing it be awarded to a Roxbury High School senior who demonstrates the selflessness and community spirit found in the best firefighters. Lynch, a former volunteer firefighter from Long Island, NY, was the anonymous donor who gave the fire station $500 in December as well as $1,100 in gifts the firehouse distributed to less-fortunate local children before Christmas.
Lynch said the scholarship is a way for him to preserve the memory of his dad, a longtime chief of the Floral Park, NY fire department, who spent his final years at the Merry Heart Health Care Center in Succasunna. While his father was at Merry Heart, Lynch came to know the Roxbury fire and EMS crews because they rushed to his dad’s aid several times when he required transport to a hospital.
“He spent his whole life in the fire service,” said Lynch, adding it was a fortunate accident that his dad ended up at Merry Heart because "it was right next to a firehouse." He said his father, in his early 80s, "was happy, watching out the window" when there was activity at the firehouse. "At that point, his mind was very confused, but he could watch the firetrucks go by and we had some good discussions about when he was chief," Lynch said. "It really helped ease the pain at the end.”
When Lynch approached Fire Co. #1 with the scholarship idea, he requested that the recipients be more than just academic standouts.
“We discussed with Gary what he wanted to do with the scholarship," said Roxbury firefighter Eric Strand. "The things we are looking for are students who exhibit characteristics similar to those found in fire and emergency personnel. These are characteristics such as integrity, a dedication to community and resourcefulness. We want to find candidates that support, encourage and promote community service.”
Strand, who is a middle school teacher in Hopatcong, said the scholarship is open to all Roxbury High School seniors and the money will be for any costs associated with going to college. He said a 5-person team at the firehouse, all with some post-secondary education, will review the applicants in early April.
Lynch said he was inspired to help young people because he saw so many of the new firefighters from Floral Park come to his father’s side as the former chief's life waned. “They came all the way out here to see him at Merry Heart,” he said. “Their fathers knew my dad but they didn’t necessarily know him … They would come for three hours. They would kind of embrace him.”
He said he started a similar scholarship back in Long Island after his dad died, noting that others have contributed to the fund and it keeps growing. Strand said the Roxbury firefighters will keep the Lynch scholarship funded even if Lynch stops doing so, but Lynch said he plans to make it a permanent donation.
“My intention is to keep it going,” he said. “I’m doing this because I’m trying to reflect on what I’ve learned from being a volunteer firefighter and what I learned from the people who meant so much to me in the volunteer fire service in Long Island.”