“A change would do you good.”
I remember listening on the radio more than 25 years ago as Sheryl Crow sang those words.
At the time I had some changes going on in my personal and professional life and, as songs that hit at a certain place and time do, the words of the song stuck with me on a playback loop when faced with changes.
This was brought to mind recently when a firefighter from the Medford Area Fire Department stopped into my office to talk about the annual smelt fry and let me know that the firefighters had made the unfortunate decision to no longer host the event.
For decades, the spring smelt fry has been a tradition in the Medford community. When it first started, firefighters would actually go up to Lake Superior and take part in the smelt run catching the small fish and bringing them back to be fried up in beer batter as a northwoods delicacy.
Times and standards soon changed and for the past few decades, the smelt served at the event have been commercially caught and processed. Still, the tradition continued and grew with hundreds of people crowding into the fire department. Firefighters would often spend weeks preparing for the event ahead of time with crew members there from early morning the day of the fry to late into the night.
The decision to end the annual event was not made lightly.
The smelt fry has always served as a fundraiser for the firefighters, allowing them to purchase equipment and firefighting tools that are in addition to what they are able to get through their annual budget dollars. Over the years, the money raised from the smelt fry have helped get a lot of gear and training for the firefighters.
However, in recent years the price of smelt has increased greatly, as have the other expenses for the event. While the firefighters have had to raise their prices to match the increases, there is a realistic upper limit, especially if the goal is to have an event that appeals to all parts of the community.
The other factor with any event, is the limited amount of worker resources you have available. People are busier now than in the past in their work and personal lives and are simply not able to make the commitments they once were able to.
I have seen this in my own life as I have had to prioritize activities between what I need to do, what I would like to do and what I am able to do. All of us are busy and firefighters are busier than most, with the added level of being on call all the time to respond to fires and emergencies.
There is a hard math equation that must be made in every group, club, business or civic organization between determining if the return on investment is worthwhile for the effort and resources involved.
Everything works in cycles. New ideas and ways of doing things are presented. They flourish under the care and direction of dedicated people. Over time, circumstances and situations change and the ideas and activities fade and stop.
What is exciting is seeing the new ideas come forward and flourish. While they won’t have the annual smelt fry to look forward to each spring, people in the community will still have ways to show their support for the firefighters as part of new events such as the annual bowling tournament that was started in recent years.
To all the past and current firefighters, along with their spouses, friends, and others dragged in to help with the smelt fries, thank you for all the great meals and especially for the memories — the smiling faces, the shared laughter and the coming together of the community to support a good cause.
It is always sad to see a tradition end, but like the song says “Change would do you good.”
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.