Crozet-area Masons in King Solomon’s Lodge No. 194 presented their Community Builder Award to Crozet Volunteer Fire Department stalwart Virgil L. James at a dinner awards ceremony April 26 and honored six new Eagle Scouts from Troop 79 in Crozet with Youth Recognition Certificates as well. The Scouts recognized were Dan Baer, Jacob Ball, Quentin Goodbar, Stephen Krenitsky, Gavin Ratcliffe and Dale Savoy. Only Savoy was present to receive the award, as the others are at college or in the armed services and were represented by their parents.
The occasion of the awards was a rare public opening of the Lodge, noted Lodge Master Goldie Tomlin, who served as emcee for the ceremony. The Masons want to make a point to endorse the virtues promoted by scouting, Tomlin said, because they agree so closely with the ideals of Masonry. “There is a parallel between Scouting and Masonry,” he said.
Each Scout received an ornate certificate inside a cover that was prepared by the Masons’ state headquarters office. Former state Grand Master Dr. Jeffrey Hodges was present at the ceremony, to the evident pleasure of the Crozet Masons. Hodges is an Eagle Scout himself and earned bronze and silver Eagle palms beyond that rank, a rare distinction.
“Six Eagle Scouts in Crozet in one year is really amazing,” said Tomlin, sounding amazed, as he conferred the awards.
Troop 79 has produced 59 Eagle Scouts since it was formed in 1950, scoutmaster Gary Conley said. “Six in one year is a very high number. We have several more in process.” To earn Eagle rank, scouts must complete 21 merit badges and a community-oriented service project. There are 50 boys in the troop now and it has a scout-to-adult ratio of two-to-one.
“We run a boy-led troop,” said Conley. “We don’t specify the program, but it’s always a learning experience. They get to learn from their mistakes. The effort we leaders put into scouting is well worth it.”
Assistant scoutmaster Vic Pena said, “Eagle Scouts stand out because they have the ability to get things done. Scouting develops them into outstanding citizens.”
Conley noted that Savoy went beyond Eagle Scout and earned a bronze palm as well, the first that Conley has ever awarded.
Tomlin also called attention to the mothers of Scouts and the wives of scout leaders. “We owe a debt to those who support those in scouting,” he said.
Tomlin gave an extensive report on V.L. James’s 58 years of dedicated service to the CVFD (he joined in 1955 at age 18). He credited James with introducing the first self-contained breathing apparatus to the department in 1960. Incredibly, before then Crozet’s volunteers often showed up at house fires in short-sleeved shirts and entered burning buildings without protection against the smoke and flames.
James is famous at the firehouse for his skill driving fire trucks (he’s considered the CVFD’s best), his knowledge of local addresses, and his ability at fighting fires, Tomlin said. The CVFD named James the Firefighter of the Year in 1993, 1994 and 1999. In 2006, when he marked his 50th year as a volunteer, he received citations from then-President George W. Bush, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, the Elks Lodge and, closer to home, the Crozet United Methodist Church.
James was present at the scene of the crash of Piedmont Airlines Flight 349 into Bucks Elbow Mountain above Crozet in 1959. James said the crash site, where 26 died, was a scene of carnage that he wished he had never seen.
Tomlin called attention to the many gruesome sights that fire and rescue volunteers must face in the line of duty, such as people burned in cars, and the extraordinary burdens their service can place on them.
In a tribute to James, CVFD Chief Preston Gentry called James “cantankerous.
“We love him. He is a true brother. I call him whenever I need advice. Mostly, it’s pretty good. If he doesn’t agree with me, I know I need to do more homework.
“People like V.L. are the cornerstone of our department. Men like him made us what we are today. I wish we had ten times the men we have in V.L. It’s a privilege to know him.”
In brief remarks Hodges told the audience that “Freemasons build communities and build better men in their hearts. The integrity of a community is like a woven rug. Its strength is in interwoven members. It’s fantastic that the Lodge had this occasion to salute you and what you do to make this area such a wonderful place to live.”
Formed during the Civil War, the Crozet Lodge will celebrate its 150th anniversary next year.