The other day I was having a Facebook “conversation” and the name of our wonderful, late mayor, Wilfred Y. Kraft, came up. Since October is the month when the spotlight is shown on our local fire departments and the great work they do I wanted to share my memories of a very special individual; a singularly unique gentleman who was absolutely committed to this community he called home. He was Mayor Kraft to me and in return he would address me as Library Director Lamphere. He was a good friend, an incredible storyteller, a proud volunteer fireman and always comported himself with dignity and grace in his role as mayor.
Frequently, Mayor Kraft would visit the library and when I saw him coming up the sidewalk I would say to Marta “Stop working, the Mayor is here” because once we started to visit, you might as well just sit back and enjoy the conversation. Mayor Kraft’s broad and extensive knowledge of St. Johnsville was unmatched and I enjoyed listening about his many experiences with the people he had encountered during his tenure. Since his passing, there have been many occasions when I’ve thought, “If Mayor Kraft were here, he’d know the answer.”
He and I shared a tremendous respect for the written word. Several times during our friendship he would come to me and ask me to review something he had written; perhaps a mayorial letter or a newspaper editorial. One of his great passions was, of course, the St. Johnsville Fire Department; how very proud he was to have been a member. It was for the fire department that I have a last memory of “tweeking” a piece of writing for him.
Mayor Kraft brought in a copy of a fireman’s prayer, a piece that would be read during a memorial following the death of a fellow member. His concern was that now the department had some female members, the prayer was not inclusive and there were a couple of other passages that he was less than pleased with. I told him to leave it with me and I would work on it. Each and every word I labored over trying to get it just right. Once I had finished, he came in to review it and you can imagine my chagrin when the re-write was NOT deemed 100%! That’s how the Mayor rolled though, always saying what he thought and expecting you to respond in kind at a higher standard. He left the prayer with me again and I labored some more; writing, crossing out, writing until finally he was pleased with the result.
We have in our collection an old toy fire truck given to us by Mayor Kraft and his brother. Amazingly, the truck actually pumped water and, with a big smile lighting his face, the Mayor took great delight in telling me that he and his brother would build “small fires”, a bit of paper or some cardboard, and put them out with the toy truck. Mayor Kraft also arranged for us to receive one of the old pull boxes for our collection and after his death, his turnout coat was given to the library.
Out of the past……My great uncle was Don LaLone, known to many as “Baloney”. He was an avid and active member of the St. Johnsville Fire Department for many years. My dad used to say Uncle Don was like an old fire horse; once he heard the alarm go off, he would be out the door pulling on his coat, tugging on his boots and charging down the sidewalk to the fire house.
To the members of St. Johnsville’s Flying Saints and to my brother David who serves as a deputy chief in Canajoharie, on behalf of our grateful communities I say thank you and may God bless you and keep you safe as you go about your duties.