Anne Arundel club keeps coffers full for fallen emergency workers

Unsung hero, scholarship winner to be named

April 23, 2010|By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun

He'd served the force for a third of his life, but tragedy struck Cpl. Duke G. Aaron III in an instant.

One July day in 2004, Aaron, an officer with the Maryland Transportation Authority, had just returned to his patrol car after writing a traffic ticket when a speeding motorist — a Maryland man who later tested positive for cocaine — rammed his vehicle from behind.

By the end of the day, the burly Aaron, 29, of Pasadena, was dead.

It was the sort of news the family of every emergency responder dreads, and the two strangers who visited Jennifer Aaron, his widow, the next day knew there was nothing they could say to make it better.

But the $2,000 check they handed her helped a little. The One Hundred Club of Anne Arundel County had been planning ahead.

"We're an organization in waiting, hoping we'll never be called," its founding president, Charles W. "Pete" Shaeffer, says.

The One Hundred Club of Anne Arundel County — named because its dues are $100 per year — marks its 10th anniversary at a gala banquet Monday, April 26. It's one of a loose confederation of chapters around the nation whose aim is to keep plenty of funds on hand to help grieving families in case the firefighter, police officer or EMT they love is killed in the line of duty.

The families of such men and women usually qualify for government benefits, but it can take months or years for the funds to arrive — small comfort to people in such a state of shock that they can be unprepared to face the mortgage, utility and tuition bills that may pile up.

"People assume that when [an emergency worker] is killed, the family gets plenty of money, but it can take a while," says Cookie Kiser of Pasadena, a member. "And the ones who get killed are usually the people working on the street [and] living paycheck to paycheck. We stay ready to help them right away."

A second chance

No one knows quite why Louis "Al" Brandt made it his mission to start a One Hundred Club chapter, any more than they knew what drove this Anne Arundel bundle of energy throughout his 78 years.

A construction worker and postal clerk who eventually dealt in Rolls Royces, Oldsmobiles and recreational vehicles, Brandt, of Hanover and Glen Burnie, was married to the former Marilyn Share for 47 years and a Kiwanis Club member for 52. He never missed a meeting.

"Al only understood one speed in life, and that was full speed ahead," said the Rev. Brian Swartwood at Brandt's funeral three years ago.

His son, Barry Brandt, recalls a family story. During the 1950s, Al Brandt saw some county firefighters who had packed themselves in ice struggling to save a burning grocery store.

From then on, he saw emergency workers as underappreciated. He and his brother, Wilbur, started the Anne Arundel Alarmers, a volunteer group that showed up at two-alarm fires or worse, handing the firefighters food and drinks. It's still in operation.

He'd also heard of the dozens of One Hundred Clubs around America, including the first one, in Detroit, which had actually put the children of slain officers through college.

Surprising doctors when he survived a severe aneurysm in 1998, the elder Brandt became more single-minded than ever. "We have to start the club," Barry Brandt recalls him saying. Al Brandt "felt God spared him for that reason."

He rounded up some friends — Henry L. Hein, chairman of the board of the Bank of Glen Burnie, Amtrak executive Lee Griffith and more — and they talked the idea up to everyone they knew.

Most who signed on had no tie to emergency responders other than admiration for their work.

"This is a group of people who have little background with emergency services and in many cases no contact with them," says Battalion Chief Matt Tobia, an 18-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. "They stay prepared on our behalf. That's why [county fire chief Robert] Ray tells us, ‘Whatever the One Hundred Club needs, you make it happen.' "

When the chapter first started in 1999, it was a far cry from ones in Detroit, Chicago and New Jersey with endowments in the millions. But making upwards of $25,000 a year at banquets, it has accumulated about $430,000. It's still the only one in Maryland.

At last week's meeting, Brandt's widow, Marilyn, 74, updated attendees on pending speakers. Barry Brandt, 42, the club president, talked ticket sales, and his son, Matthew Brandt, 10, followed the action from the back of the room.

"We all become a working family," Barry says, not of his own extended family but of the club's membership, now 180 strong.

Officer of the year

Cpl. Duke Aaron III is one of the few killed while serving the county since the club began, and one of 30 since the county started keeping track decades ago. The previous such fatality was in the mid-1970s.

A 10-year veteran, he was considered a rising star when Albert Antonelli of Queenstown rear-ended his parked police car at more than 70 mph.

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