Local Rotarians recognize area first-responders

The streets surrounding the Vincennes Fortnightly Clubhouse, 421 N. Sixth St., were lined with emergency vehicles Tuesday afternoon, but the only smoke and flames to be found were coming from the large charcoal grill on Seminary Street.

The Vincennes Rotarians spent part of the eve of Sept. 11 honoring the community’s first-responders by providing a free lunch to those on the front lines in emergencies. 

While most first-responder events typically cater specifically to police, fire, and EMS, the Rotary Club wanted to extend the offer to include military and dispatch personnel, as well as security guards.

Rotarian Gary Hackney, an event organizer, said it was important to them to acknowledge all who serve.

After encouraging a group of police officers to take at least two desserts, Hackney said, “We want first-responders to know how much we appreciate their service. We couldn’t function as a community without our first responders. They keep us safe.” 

In the first hour of the luncheon, the Fortnightly Clubhouse was primarily filled with sheriff’s deputies and city and state police officers, with a few overheard joking that the EMTs must not have heard about the free lunch just yet. 

After retiring from the Vincennes City Police Department, Bob Dunham decided to continue serving the community as chief of the Vincennes University Police Department. After finishing his meal, Dunham said, “It’s always nice to be recognized, because the majority of the time we’re observed in a negative manner.

“Whether it’s a Rotary member or a person on the street taking the time to say, ‘thank you,’ it means a lot,” he said.

Megan Jennings walked around the historic clubhouse snapping photos of Rotarians dishing out side items, cookies and brownies. Jennings, who has been a Rotary member for more than four years and now serves as president of the Vincennes chapter, says when fellow organization members Kirk Bouchie, Matthew Lindsey and Gary Hackney proposed the idea of a first-responders appreciation lunch, she and others were thrilled to jump on board.

“It was important for us to really acknowledge all of the things that first responders do,” Jennings said, “not just for our community but all over. But we also really want to acknowledge the people who are doing good for our community.”

Most first-responders arrived at the lunch in uniform and on duty; leaving little time to stay and socialize. Still, the hot meal and gesture were appreciated by all.

As Det. Stacy Reese with the Vincennes City Police Department prepared to head back to work, she said, “It means a lot to us that the community supports us,” adding that “it’s nice to feel appreciated sometimes.” 

As a wave of firetrucks pulled up and firefighters piled out, Hackney said Rotary is a club that does what it can to make Vincennes a better place, and so do first-responders.

“They provide an environment where people can enjoy our quality of life here,” he said. “I think our first responders are directly responsible for that.”

But for some, the hot lunch would have to wait as an emergency call sounding across their radios meant those fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars collected around the Fortnightly were headed out to aid in another emergency — as first-responders so often do.

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