Shiloh Zion VFD celebrates 50 years of community service

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By Greg Summers

The Shiloh Zion Volunteer Fire Department has been a community hub for 50 years now.

And Sam “Mr. Sam” Robinson has been a part of that hub for just as long.Not only that, Robinson, 87, has been the only treasurer the department has known. Much of its records can be found tucked in the leather briefcase that’s right beside the recliner in his living room.“You never know when you’re going to need it,” he said of the brief case. “I try to keep it close by.”The department’s history is something Robinson knows well.He and his brother, Edgar, were among the 15 who met at Shiloh School in 1958 when the Shiloh and Zion communities came together to form a department.Robinson said it came on the heels of Heath Gay and his family losing their home in a fire. Two of the departments charter members – the late Paris “Shorty” Caskey and his wife, the late Sudie Caskey, watched the Gay home burn to the ground.“We residents decided this would not have happened if we had a fire department or, most importantly, a truck,” Sudie Caskey wrote in a 1998 history of Shiloh Zion Volunteer Fire Department. “At the time, Lancaster Fire Department was not allowed to come this far for fire calls.”Robinson said the community immediately went to work to raise funds to buy a fire truck.“We started having suppers to raise money and went around to each house asking families to chip in $3 or $4 a year, or whatever they could afford,” Robinson said. In the meantime, the late Sen. Frank L. “Son” Roddey helped the fire department get its charter, while the community set about building a fire station.Robinson said the late Caldwell McAteer donated a tract of land on Monroe Highway for a station. Fred Parks donated the shingles and Archie Steele laid the blocks, with many in the tight-knit community providing labor and money to complete the building at 1509 Monroe Highway. The volunteers built a new fire station at 703 Monroe Highway in the 1990s but still use both facilities.“It was a good group and we did right well by working together,” Robinson said, of building the first fire station.A short time later, Hubert Neal, Manley Belk, Leslie Draffin and McAteer went to Ridgeway to buy the station’s first fire truck.“We paid about $3,000 for it,” Robinson said. “Then we bought an old tanker from Evans Oil. Co. to use as a water truck.”By 1962, the members of Shiloh Zion had raised enough funds to buy a new Chevrolet chassis that was retrofitted with the old oil company tanker.He said to see how much the fire service has changed since that time is nothing short of amazing.“We now have the stuff that can help us save houses,” Robinson said. “It doesn’t make a difference if it’s a wreck or a fire, the fellas get there as quick as they can.”Strong legacyTo some, Robinson’s role at Shiloh Zion Volunteer Fire Department might appear a bit strange.He’s been a member there for 50 years (and counting), but he isn’t a firefighter.“I never did get interested in fighting fires and answering calls,” he said. “I think I went to one fire when they were burning down a house on University Drive in the 1970s for practice. That part of it just wasn’t for me.”But Shiloh Zion fire chief John Rollins said Robinson is an integral part of the 20-member all volunteer department.While no one gets excited about keeping track of the money and paying the bills, Rollins said Robinson jumps at the chance. Robinson’s position as treasurer is one that firefighters vote on each year, so it’s not a job that he just assumes. “He’s fantastic at it and provides a real service to this department and community,” Rollins said. “What he handles is a load in itself.”Robinson has left a rich legacy to the fire service in other ways, too.His son was Lancaster Fire Department Capt. William Robinson.William Robinson, 51, died June 21, 2005, from complications after a four-wheeler accident. At the time of his death, William Robinson had been a firefighter for 33 years and his peers called him a man who was dedicated to his profession.Photos of his late son, along with other firefighting memorabilia, line a bookshelf in Sam Robinson’s living room. The 87-year-old retired cattle farmer and widower is clearly proud of his late son’s legacy and professional dedication.His words about his son are few, but filled with love and passion.“As a fireman, he was dedicated and believed in doing things the right way,” the elder Robinson said. “He was a No. 1 fireman.” His grandsons, Will Robinson and Sam Plyler are firefighters and so is his son-in-law, Fred Plyler.Department honors RobinsonOn Aug. 23, the members of Shiloh Zion pulled a fast one on Robinson by hosting a reception to honor his 50 years of service.And when his three daughters, Amanda, Ann Marie and Jane, showed up, none of them were in on the planning.“They really got over on all of us,” he said, laughing. “All I knew is we were having a department supper.”Rollins said it was an honor that was long overdue.“Sam’s been here since the start and we love having him around,” Rollins said.Robinson will be there Sunday, too, when the department celebrates its 50th anniversary. It will probably give him a couple of stories to share Monday morning when he meets his coffee-drinking buddies at the KMG America cafeteria on Main Street.“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.Bet you didn’t know...Sam Robinson was married to the late Vivian Major Robinson for 50 years.An excellent pianist, Vivian Robinson was a Winthrop College graduate and a graduate of the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. At one time, she served as organist at 4th Avenue Church in Brooklyn and became a concert pianist in New York City. While there, she was a featured musician and highly sought accompanist for national performers and orchestras.Robinson not only toured, but appeared at Carnegie Hall and was a regular performer on the WYNC radio broadcasts “Keyboard Masters” and “Young Artists.”The Vivian Major Robinson Endowment and Lancaster County Council of the Arts co-sponsor spring and fall concerts to honor her legacy, love of music and former students. One of those events – an organ concert featuring James Glass and Tim Smith – was Sunday at First Presbyterian Church. Sam Robinson was at the concert.Sam said he met his future wife during the summer of 1947 when the Greer, S.C., native came here to visit her grandfather, the late John Edgar Craig.“We met picking peaches at her granddaddy’s farm,” he said.Sam said it’s hard to tell if it was love at first sight.“I got a letter from her in the mail and I sort of followed up on it,” he said, laughing. “It took me six trips to Jackson, Miss., but I did follow up on it.”The Robinsons were married in 1949 and moved to their home off Monroe Highway to start a family.At first, she taught music at the college level, but then started giving private organ and piano lessons in their home. She served as First ARP Church organist for 18 years and accompanist for Shiloh ARP Church until 1989. She died June 11, 1999, at the age of 76.“She died on our 50th wedding anniversary,” Sam said.Her grand piano is still a centerpiece in the Robinson home.“She was something else,” Sam said.Want to go?

WHAT: Shiloh Zion Volunteer Fire Department 50th anniversary celebrationWHEN: 3 to 5 p.m. SundayWHERE: 703 Monroe Highway (S.C. 200 North)HOW MUCH: Free, the public is invitedINFORMATION: Call 285-1703