LUTZ — For more than 60 years, members of Lutz Volunteer Firemen put out fires in community homes and businesses. Now they'll fuel students' drive for higher education with scholarships for the next 25 years — and maybe longer — with $260,000 accumulated from membership fees and frugal spending.
The now-disbanded Lutz Volunteer Firemen presented the money Friday to the GFWC Lutz/Land O'Lakes Woman's Club, which the organization chose to act as fund guardian and to select award recipients.
When the volunteer firefighters learned in late 2012 that their services would be taken over by paid Hillsborough County firefighters, they wanted their remaining funds to stay in the community.
"People in Lutz supported us all through the years and we'd built a sizeable account," said Jerry Goins, who has been involved with Lutz Volunteer Firemen since 1961, most recently as its accountant.
For Gordon Brown, Jay Muffly and scores of other firefighters, the unanimous vote by the Lutz Volunteer Fire Association board of directors for the Woman's Club to oversee the money was the perfect call.
"This followed the bylaws that said if the fire department goes out of business all remaining funds must go to nonprofits," said Brown, a longtime board member.
"You can't do anything in Lutz without being intertwined with the Woman's Club, and we know they'll make the very best decisions," said Muffly, president of the Lutz Volunteer Fire Association, which oversaw the operations of Lutz Volunteer Firemen.
Lutz Volunteer Firemen and the Woman's Club have worked together closely since 1960 when, during the Woman's Club's first year as an organization, the club donated $255 to the firefighters group.
Club members in the recognizable green shirts are ever present in the community. With 90 members, the organization, which is dedicated to community causes and contributing to charities, and has earned state awards for its efforts, is one of Florida's largest woman's clubs.
So where did the $260,000 come from?
The fire department ran a tight business, collecting membership fees and paying cash for everything.
For more than 50 years, the firefighters held a July Fourth barbecued chicken dinner fundraiser. They were judicious in spending, holding in reserve a full year's operating funds. When they needed equipment, such as Jaws of Life in the 1980s, they put donation jars in local businesses and money poured in from the community.
Additionally, when the volunteer fire department land on Lutz Lake Fern Road was sold, the earnings from the sale topped out the funds to establish the Lutz Volunteer Firemen's Scholarship Fund.
"We wanted the scholarship named to honor all the men and women who have served for 60 years," Brown said.
Barbara Nicholson, chairwoman of the Woman's Club Scholarship Committee and past president of the club, said she plans to "follow the fire department's directions to the letter" in awarding scholarships.
The rules are simple: At least two scholarships valued at $2,500 each will be awarded annually. They will be need-based. The number of scholarships and amounts can increase as funds grow. Recipients must be Lutz residents and must attend a certified institution of study. The money will go directly to the school when the student enrolls.
The Lutz/Land O'Lakes Woman's Club has for years held fundraisers, with a large portion of earned money going into their general scholarship fund. They grant about a dozen scholarships annually. The application and recipient selection processes were already in place, so the scholarship committee with Nicholson in charge took over.
"Years from now some kid will get this scholarship and wonder who the Lutz Volunteer Firemen were," said Muffly. "Maybe somebody will remember and tell them.
"The main thing for all of us with the station closing is this money stays here in our community, right were it came from."