By Debbie Adams
After you watch the Vinton Dogwood Festival Parade on April 29, jump in your car and travel down Route 24 to Goodview Elementary School for the annual Ham Dinner sponsored by the Stewartsville/Chamblissburg Volunteer Fire Department (SCVFD). Dinner is available from 2 p.m. until 7:30. No advance ticket is necessary, although you can RSVP on their Facebook page. You can eat in the school cafeteria or drive through.
Your dinner will include ham, with green beans, candied yams, homemade coleslaw, rolls, and a selection of desserts—homemade, homecooked, from scratch. The firemen cook the hams on Thursday evening, slice them on Friday, and add the fixings to assemble the meals on Saturday with support from other community volunteers.
The Ham Dinner has been a tradition since the 1960’s, when the Ladies Auxiliary to the Stewartsville/Chamblissburg Fire Department began the event to support the department.
According to the SCVFD, the annual ham dinner “is a tradition where our community and the fire department come together in a more festive atmosphere. It’s our time to meet and get to know those in our community.”
It is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help with operating costs, purchases of vehicles, gear, and equipment. The Stewartsville Chamblissburg Volunteer Fire Department is operated strictly 100% by volunteers, 24/7. They serve approximately 150 square miles of Southwest Bedford County.
This year’s dinner is officially named the Edward “Pete” Dooley Memorial Ham Dinner,” after long-time member Pete Dooley who passed away in December 2020. He was the last surviving founding member of the volunteer fire department and became the organizer of the annual dinner in 1966. He served as a firefighter for over 50 years, Treasurer of the SCVFD for many years, and played a vital role in the administrative duties of the department.
Kathleen Dooley Wolfe says she started spending time at the fire department with her dad, Pete, when she was six years old. His day job was working as Vice President of Rainbow Bakery in Roanoke, but his passion was volunteering as a firefighter.
The SCVFD had its start when her father’s aunt and uncle in Shady Grove lost their home to a fire when the closest fire department couldn’t respond in time to save it. About 12 men started the organization which has now grown to about 40 volunteers.
While Wolfe is not a volunteer with the organization (she is a nurse), in addition to her father, her mother, grandmother, grandfather, and great uncle have been active members.
She says the SCVFD has many third and fourth generations firefighters. Some of them have become professional firefighters in Roanoke City, Roanoke County, and Bedford, but still volunteer.
Wolfe says she has the highest respect for the volunteers (and their families) who give up family time—birthdays, graduations, Christmas mornings, other special events–to support the community.
“They do it, not for pay or recognition—but for the needs of the community,” she said. “They run into situations where others run away. It is a tight family, a brotherhood.”
She also remembers how much her father enjoyed putting together the dinners—“it was his pride and joy” and how the day after the dinner, he got started immediately on lists for the next dinner a year off.
The ham dinner is always scheduled after the Dogwood Parade. In fact, in 1973 it was named the “Dogwood Ham Supper.” An article and advertisement from the 1973 Vinton Messenger show that the same menu is used in 2023 as in 1973. Fifty years ago, the fundraiser served 3000 people with 500 pounds of ham, 160 gallons of green beans, 110 gallons of yams, 75 pounds of carrots, 500 pounds of cabbage, and 600 homemade pies.
The cost for dinner is $12 for adults, $9 for children.
Check the Stewartsville/Chamblissburg Volunteer Fire Department Facebook page for more information.