La Plata County first responders were the center of attention Thursday night at the The Hundred Club of Durango’s annual gathering.
The mission statement for the club, founded during the aftermath of the 1974 fire that killed a local firefighter and police officer, is to provide financial support to families of first responders – law enforcement, fire officials, emergency medical responders – who are injured or die in the line of duty, in the form of a $20,000 check, within 24 hours. In other words, members of the club act as first responders, for first responders, when tragedy strikes.
Club President Jerry Martinez said his goal for the evening was to get as many first responders, which included those who recently tested for captain promotions at Durango Police Department, to attend as possible. He wanted to give them the recognition they deserve and allow future leaders in the audience the chance to applaud their efforts person-to-person.
Each first responder received a meal from the club during the event, and donations from local business owners, including a meal from Serious Texas Bar-B-Q and a $25 gift card from Durango Joes Coffee. Martinez said it was a small prize for the services they perform every day.
The event, which had 165 attendees, featured speakers, including Martinez, owner of CJ’s Diner; Jasper Welch, former Durango mayor; a Houston Fire Department official who received support from the club after he lost his rookie partner in the line of duty; Tom Kaufman, a longtime Durango Fire Department official; Durango Fire Chief Hal Doughty; Colorado State Patrol Capt. Adrian Driscoll; Don Maple, a former club president; and Sheri Rochford, who introduced the six college students, three from Fort Lewis College, who received scholarships from the club this year. The club provides scholarships to family members of first responders, in addition to providing them with emergency financial support.
After speeches, Martinez asked all the first responders in the audience to stand and fill the aisles, and be recognized for their dedication to the community.
“I pictured this part of the program ... And I began to cry. These people are so important. I think of what they do, have to do, every day,” he said. “The biggest deal of the night is recognizing the men and women here who are our first responders.”
Members of the club, which is a nonprofit, donate at least $100 each year. Martinez said after more than three decades of fundraising and generous donations from community members and supporters, the club has plenty of money for it to continue to donate for scholarships.
Club officers are: president Martinez, vice president Don Maple and financial adviser Steve Short. It also includes first responder representatives: Durango Fire Chief Doughty, Durango Police Department Chief Kamran Afzal, La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith and Colorado State Patrol Capt. Driscoll. Directors include: memberships and communications director Eric Hjermstad and scholarships director Debra Parmenter. Board members are: Richard Ballantine, Dean Brown, Shawn Candelaria, Bobbie Carll, Joe Colgan, Ken Duncan, Jeff Murray, Sheri Rochford, Julie Westendorff and Patti Zink.
Martinez took over for Dean Brown as president after the 2015 event.
Brown looked at Martinez as someone who gives and receives respect to and from the community, and could pass on the club’s legacy to younger generations. Maple said a few kind words during his speech about him.
“I thought that I ought to get some new blood, and I found Jerry. And I want you all to know we’ve gone from bad to worse,” Maple joked during his speech. “I’m amazed at the connections Jerry has to offer the club. He’s the real deal of the modern Durango.”
The club currently has 304 members, compared to 314 at the same time last year. The longtime members and supporters, especially Martinez, feel an urgent need to reach out to and recruit a younger generation motivated to uphold what the club stands for.
“I bleed red ... Well, I guess most of us do, but it’s Durango red,” said Martinez.
For more information about the club, visit www.durango100club.com.