Maryland Jaycees lavish laurels on longtime Howard County volunteer

April 21, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Ask some Elkridge residents who Abner Gouldin is and they may not know.

But mention a jolly red elf on Christmas Eve who has ridden a fire truck for the past 19 years giving out candy canes to youngsters. Or the emergency medical technician who has provided life-saving IV fluids to scores of injured people. Or the man who organized a benefit in 1983 to raise more than $4,000 for a child with cerebral palsy. Then there will be recognition.

Last week, the Maryland Jaycees recognized the 63-year-old as Howard County's outstanding senior citizen of the year and one of 10 outstanding seniors in Maryland for his years of volunteer work. He has spent 23 years with the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department and has volunteered his help for a multitude of other activities as well.

"We look for somebody who is well-rounded in community service," said Debbie Metzler, co-chair of the Outstanding Senior project for the Elkridge Area Jaycees. "Some people may be involved in one thing; the ultimate honoree is someone who has served in several areas of the community," she said.

The honor arrived as Mr. Gouldin departs Elkridge.

Earlier this year, he relinquished his volunteer duties and this month moves to Ocean City with his wife, Peggy.

"Since I retired, I didn't realize how many hours I was away from home. It was about 20 hours a week, at least," Mr. Gouldin said. He describes his volunteer work as a "family effort," where his wife, eight children and even his employer allowed him to adjust his schedule.

His years spent "riding the ambulance" include stints as first aid assistant, emergency medical technician, intravenous technician and cardiac rescue technician.

Each involves hours of training, certification and re-certification.

Through the years, he estimates, he made approximately 1,800 emergency calls.

He said he has never been the type to join a group just to be a member.

"I'm not a card-carrying type of person," he said. "If I can't be involved, I don't join."

At the beginning, he worked at the fire department on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, he recalled. Then for 20 years he worked one 11-hour shift on Saturday nights. And he sometimes volunteered for extra hours in-between.

Raymond Faith, battalion chief of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue, was a former chief at the Elkridge Fire Department in 1962. "Abner gave 200 percent . . . the nights that he was scheduled to work, you were guaranteed that he would be there; he was as faithful as clockwork," Chief Faith said.

In addition, Chief Faith said that Mr. Gouldin provided "balance" in the department and could approach problems from a practical side.

"That's important, especially in a volunteer fire department where one person leans to the left and another to the right; Abner will be really missed," he said.

All the volunteer work left little time with his family on weekends. And on at least one occasion -- while he was pumping water from neighbors' basements during Hurricane Agnes -- his family was waiting anxiously for him to come home.

"While he was out helping others, our front lawn was filled with water and we had no electricity for two days," laughed Mrs. Gouldin, 62. "We fixed our meals in the fireplace."

Besides playing Santa and volunteering as an emergency medical technician, he served as an ambulance captain, vice president and treasurer of the board of directors for the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department, a member of the Howard County Fire Board, and an assistant Boy Scout leader.

Mr. Gouldin has also chaired the Awards Banquet Committee -- which has recognized members of the fire department for 15 years.

He collaborated on a history book about the department and organized mock disaster drills during the '70s to prepare the community for emergencies.

Looking back, Mr. Gouldin says the efforts have given him enormous satisfaction. "I have to get involved because I care," he said simply.

He says he looks forward to a slower pace in his new life, where he can indulge himself leisurely in the morning with "a cup of tea, bagels or a muffin."

Still, when asked about future volunteer work, he replied without hesitation.

"Maybe I'll help with Meals on Wheels; I'll see what's available and see who needs help."

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