Rest in Peace, Charlie Leopold
Last Friday the City of Brunswick, and the people of southwest Frederick County, said goodbye to one of its stalwarts, a quiet giant known more for what he did than what he said.
Every one of our small towns and communities has guys like Charlie, special people who'll do just about anything they're asked, and often do things without even being asked.
Charlie Leopold was a Life Member of Company 5, the Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company. Company 5 is an all-volunteer company, a phenomenon that folks who' ve been here for more than 20 years took for granted.
It used to be that every fire and rescue company was composed of volunteers; that when you called 911, chances were that your neighbor would be on the apparatus. Not anymore, though.
Most of our larger station houses are manned by a combination of career and volunteer personnel. What this means is the service we used to receive for free has been replaced by a fire tax, needed to pay the salaries of the professional firefighters and rescue technicians.
Charlie Leopold was one of those dedicated volunteers who felt that people in Company 5's first due area should be served by a volunteer company. He responded to calls, but as his age advanced, he took on increasingly important administrative roles.
Charlie cut and cooked more french fries than Ore Ida, volunteering for that duty for many years at the Company 5 Carnival, at the Company Five food tent at Brunswick's Railroad Days, at the Burkittsville Ruritan Carnival, and at the Annual Frog Eye Mud Bog in Pleasant Valley.
Last week, Charlie died in an industrial accident while delivering steel for Canaam to a jobsite in Virginia. Charlie had retired from the National Park Service after 31 years as a maintenance specialist for the C&;O Canal National Historic Park.
Charlie was not one of those guys who would slip quietly into retirement. In addition to his part time job with Canaam, he ran a snow removal and hauling business. Charlie loved honest, hard work.
He also loved horses and farming, more honest and hard work. In fact, every recollection I have of Charlie is of him doing some sort of work for someone else's benefit.
Charlie had taken hold of one of the biggest projects in Company 5's history: the planning, design, and construction of a new fire station. If you've been to the Brunswick Fire Hall, you've probably visited the big upstairs social hall.
You're in pretty good company if you've gone up there. Patsy Cline, Jimmy Dean, and Guy Lombardo have also been up there to perform in Brunswick's heyday.
Charlie knew that a well-designed building and social hall would allow for the continued success of Company 5, both for operational reasons and for fundraising purposes. Charlie also knew that the future of Company 5 rested with the young members, and he took time to share his experiences and knowledge with them.
He worked hard for Brunswick special events, too. You could count on seeing him running around at various events, and he never complained, even when he had a good reason.
Charlie had recently become involved with Debbie Williams and the Patty Pollatos Fund. Debbie is truly one of Frederick County's most special people, and Charlie was a good find for Debbie. Debbie often says that the Lord loves a hard worker, so Charlie would be adored.
So, Brunswick said goodbye to Charlie Leopold last Friday. The new Stauffer Funeral Home branch in Brunswick was a fitting locale; the crowd would have overwhelmed our other family-owned funeral home.
The building was filled to standing room only, with a number of people seated in the outer hall, able to hear but not see the proceedings. The service was simple, beautiful, and reflective of Charlie's simple but committed lifestyle.
There were several speakers, notable among them Chip Jewell, the coordinator of the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. Chip is a class act, and his remarks were wonderful.
Music was heaven-sent, featuring Don Barnes and the aforementioned Debbie Williams. I describe the affect that Don's singing always has on me this way; it reminds of the feeling I have when I'm wearing my worn and faded Levi's. They might not be the prettiest thing in my wardrobe, but nothing is as comfortable or makes me feel as good.
The audience had some notable figures. Kevin Brandt, the superintendent of the C&;O Canal National Historic Park, and a group of Park Service employees, showed up to say goodbye to their former colleague. Several of Brunswick's elected officials and business people were there, along with a large contingent of county fire fighters, EMTs, and Department of Fire and Rescue personnel.
The fire and rescue volunteers that stood out the most were the younger members of Brunswick Company 5, like AJ, Tasha, and Jonathan Smothers and my daughter Cassie. These young people may be just beginning to realize the impact that Charlie has had on them, but time will demonstrate the value of selfless sacrifice for their communities.
His loving wife Freda, his children Tracy, Tim, and Tammy, his stepchildren Bo and Dianne, and his mother Mary, his sisters Sandra, Karen, and Cindy, and his eight adoring grandchildren are all left with a huge void.
The words of comfort offered by the clergy and speakers at the service may seem inadequate today. I know Brunswick, though. Charlie will live on in the memories and duties of the Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company. That new building will stand someday as a testament to his vision and foresight.
The younger members of the company will begin their own journey of service, and every fire call, every auto accident, and every fundraiser they work will bring them one step closer to fulfilling the his legacy.
Rest In Peace - Charles W. Leopold, Jr.