Families in Service to the Community: Grandpa & Grandson Van Develde

April 25 marked what would have been this editor’s father’s 90th birthday — longtime Fair Havenite and lifetime member of the Fair Haven Fire Department and captain of its Fire Police. The following, in light of that milestone, is, in full disclosure, an opinion piece — a tribute to him and the grandson he never knew, an unbeknownst community service family team … 

By Elaine Van Develde

Bill Van Develde was a creature of his own Fair Haven habit.

It was a simple habit. It was also a giving one. He went to work. He came home to his family with a signature car pull-up like clockwork, around 5:15 p.m., walked through the front door, stopped at the staircase to holler, “Yyyellooooo! Anybody home? Who’s gonna come say ‘Yyyellooooo’ to their father?”

With another few clomps, he’d go directly to his desk in the dining room. Tucked in a spot right next to the desk was his beloved plectron that alerted him to fire emergencies in Fair Haven. He’d take off his watch. He’d take his wallet out of his back pocket. He’d plop them carefully on the same spot on top of the desk every single day.

And, once in a while, he’d pull a dollar out of that wallet and call his girls over and give each one followed by a “Don’t tell yer mother, but you girls gotta always make sure you have a dollar in your pocket! You never know!”

No you don’t, Dad. We never knew, nor could we have imagined that you would have died at 57. Bill Van Develde left behind his wife, two girls, a dog and, well, the Fair Haven Volunteer Fire Company.

He had nothing else to leave behind and, really, nothing mattered to him more than these things and, yes, people. He loved his family and the dog, but he also loved that fire company and the town in which he and his family made a life. A lot.

With fervor and, OK, the kind of simple excitability about it all that makes teens roll their eyes, he’d hear the plectron’s piercing Morse code kind of signal (Booooodop Boop Boop Booooop Booooodop!), the fire horn (remember that?) would honk from atop the firehouse, there’d be some static and code talk and out he’d dart.

“Get out the way, girls! Gotta go! Save that dinner!”

And off he’d race to the firehouse — answering the call. It was his calling. He loved it all and he never wanted any hero worship over it. It was just what he felt he was meant to do — with whirlwind gusto. He was a World War II vet, too. He didn’t want any rigamarole over that, either. It was that simple. Really. “No damn rigamarole!” — over himself. Nope. He hated a fuss.

But when it came time to protect his family, people or fire company family in his town in an emergency, he’s the one who’d be fussing. He gave a crap like that. No better way to just say it.

There were times there would be a fire or other emergency somewhere and there he’d be … out in the road waving his hands around directing traffic like a nut on a mission and talking to people, too, always calling everyone “Buddy” and telling them to “take ‘er easy and have a good night.” 10-4.

Oh, and then there was the fair. The Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair. It was his absolute joy to “work the fair,” as fire company people would all say. Yes, it was his absolute joy that he took very seriously and drove absolutely nuts, with all the love in the world, the neighborhood kids who shuttled stock around for him.

“Take ‘er easy! Get that stock over there to that tent Joe, Pete, Murphy … ehhh, whoever the hell you are, kid!” That’s what everyone would hear, year after year, coming from the good-hearted guy clutching that clipboard like it was a ton of solid gold, a pencil stuck behind his ear and that “little dab’ll do ya” Brylcremed hair.

Never mind the hair, he called me the dog’s many times in my life — Mitzie. Otherwise, I was usually Pete.

So, for probably a very subconscious reason, I named my dog Petey and the grandson he never knew got his name as a middle name — Cole William.

And that grandson took it to heart. He, too, loved the town in which he was raised, adored his grandma Sally, respected the sparsely known, aging memory of his grandpa and inherited his love of Fair Haven and serving.

He, too, grew up there — in the same house and around generations of the same families who had become family. And he, too, started young getting a yearning heed that fireman’s call. He had a little plastic fire hat. He had a fire truck. He got them as soon as he was old enough to roll them around on the floor. And that was pretty young. He treasured his “working man, fireman” stuff. And, from the time he was an infant, Cole was “working the fair” — sort of.

He’d hang out with grandma, Jeanette Choma, Barbara Lang and all the other ladies in the Grab Bag Booth. And he helped anywhere else he could over the years, including a few stints of running stock like the kids his grandpa lovingly “bossed.”

Now he’s known to be at the Shoot the Star booth all fair week long. Grandpa had never met his grandson. In fact, grandpa died during fair week in 1983. He missed his grandson by five years.

Then again, maybe he he’s been there all along — and beaming, and probably smiling ear to ear and flailing his fire company flashlight around like a banshee over his grandson.

That’s because, like grandpa, like grandson, Cole, just recently, within a short span of a few months, joined the Tinton Falls’ Northside Engine Company (because that’s where he now lives), graduated from the Monmouth County Fire Academy, was sworn in as a line officer, assistant engineer, in the fire company (having served for the shortest time in the history of the company before being installed as a line officer for 2016), and was named Northside Engine Company Firefighter of the Year.

Yes, it’s a heap of action in a short span. It’s banshee-worthy. Rigamarole-worthy. Sorry, Dad. I think you might make an exception for this one.

You see, Bill Van Develde would have been 90 on Monday and, had he lived, would have still been walking the fair grounds, still directing traffic for the fire police, still going on calls, still annoying the crap out of people calling them by the wrong name.

He may have even called Cole Petey. Who knows? He would have called him. That’s for sure. He has called him. He’s called him to a special, simple kind of calling with rigamarole-free pride.

Happy Birthday, Dad. He heard you.

There’s more calling to come.

Your ornery daughter,