AMBOY – The Amboy Volunteer Fire Department has lost its band of brothers.
The Amboy Civic Organization held a dinner Tuesday thanking the four key members of the department for their service.
Retiring are brothers Chief Frank Stenzel, Assistant Chief Dave Stenzel and Capt. Al Stenzel and Assistant Chief Marv Spears, who the Stenzels say may as well be a biological brother.
Combined, the four have put in about 140 years of service.
Each gives credit to the other, and all agree that without the support of family, none would have made it as long as he did.
Frank, 61, was with the department 40 years – 4 years longer than he’s been married to his wife, Karen. They have two grown children and five grandchildren. He will continue working as a salesman with Crop Production Services.
“Can’t fully retire when you have a light bill to pay,” he said. “Being able to do this, where we were on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, you have to have an understanding wife and family.
“You leave during birthdays or Christmas. If something happens, you go. It is more than us four guys tonight, it’s our families, and wives Nichole, Roxy, Karen who deserve the praise.”
Over the decades there have been some tough calls, some funny instances and a bond of brotherhood every firefighter felt.
“In 40 years you see so much, you have to put the bad away and leave it lay,” Frank said. “I spent two-thirds of my life down there with them, and it just sort of happened. I moved back to Amboy, planning to stay a couple months. I was headed to Montana or Wyoming. I ran into my wife, who I knew but hadn’t seen in a long time, at a football game. That is how I ended up staying in Amboy so long.”
Soon after, there was a knock on his door, and someone asked him to join the department. Recruiting door to door was common back then.
“And the rest is history,” he said.
Marv, 60, laughed. “I had a neighbor that was on the fire department, too. As it turned out, that neighbor was Frank. And now I’ve spent over half my life there. It will always be a part of me.
Marv worked 33 years for the department after he retired from Northwestern Steel and Wire the year before it closed. He has two grown children, and will continue working in the Amboy Township road maintenance department.
Dave, 55, was with the department for 30 years, and plans to keep working at Do It Best in Dixon, where he has been for 19 years.
He and his wife, Nichole, have been married 8 years and have two children, Haleigh, 6, and Trevor, 4.
“Being retired, I’d say we are really looking forward to not leaving the Thanksgiving table.” Dave said. “If you got that call, you left your fork sitting in your mashed potatoes and you left.”
Al, 57, is Amboy’s director of Public Works.
He met Roxy on the set of the annual firefighter’s play, and, after 27 years, she is still his leading lady, he said.
He credits her with his success during his 30-year stint with the department. They have two grown children.
“If it wasn’t for her and my two boys ... there’s just a lot of things at home that got put on the back burner. Back then, if the pager went off or the whistle went up, you were going.”
The men agreed that the most enjoyable part of the job was being able to help people, and as guests took turns thanking them and sharing stories, the four modestly nodded their heads in thanks.
Eileen Piper is the Stenzels’ sister. “I knew them when they were little and bratty. Our mom raised us by herself when our dad died, and I know Mom is watching and is so proud of you guys.”
From arriving at the scene of a fatality that turned out to be one of their own firefighters to watching half a downtown block go up in flames to answering an ambulance call for someone who simply needed a Band-Aid, the Stenzels have seen a lot in their time.
Leaving it behind will be difficult, they agree, although Frank, now 3 months inactive, said he feels a sense of relief.
“My wish as chief for 14 years was that nobody die under my watch, and believe me, that was always a big concern. So that relief was instant. As much as you miss it – and I do – the responsibility wasn’t on my shoulders any longer.”
Still, “the hardest thing was walking out the door that night when I resigned at our board meeting,” he said. “I stood and looked at that door before I left. I knew when I walked out I was no longer chief.
I think very deeply of this department. I feel with a lot of people, I helped build it to what it is today. It was a tough deal to go home that night. But it’s a young man’s game, and I am 61.”