ELDRED, NY — Chuck Myers gathers his wife Ruth gently into his arms with the tenderness one might use when handling a delicate flower or fragile bird. With 67 years of marriage behind them, the couple is navigating new terrain as Ruth enters the ever-changing landscape of Alzheimer’s disease.
A good life it’s been though—deeply rooted in the Town of Highland and filled with adventurous travel to all 50 states and more. Blessed with a son, Robert, good work, service to country and the wide-ranging respect of his community, Chuck has also managed to amass a remarkable collection of 1,577 ambulances. One of them is a replica of the first American Legion ambulance he helped bring to town—a 1936 Packard.
Chuck began collecting ambulances in 1988 on the couple’s first cruise to Alaska. The rest have come from flea markets, toy shows, yard sales, friends and sources on the Internet. “I admit to having an E-Bay obsession,” he confides.
For more than a decade, the couple transported 300 to 400 ambulances from their collection to exhibits in various states. Although the travel has ended, the public can still see displays at the Eldred American Legion Ambulance Service (ALAS) and the Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis.
These days, the couple spends most of their time in the house Chuck has called home since he was three years old. Near where Peck’s Market sits today, his father ran a general store with a gas station, dance floor and soda fountain. The family home was on the second floor, and Chuck was born there in 1926. When he was three, the family moved to their present home in Eldred, just up the road from the town hall.
Upon graduating from high school in 1943, Chuck enlisted in the Army, completing a specialized training program at Harvard before being sent to Germany and serving in the reserves until 1946. After discharge, he married his high school sweetheart, and the couple joined Chuck’s parents in the sprawling family home across from the high school where Ruth was employed.
In the ‘50s, he worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance, then spent 33 years with the Sullivan County Highway Department, which later became the Department of Public Works (DPW). Before retiring in 1986, Chuck served as commissioner of the SCDPW for three years.
In 1948, Chuck and fellow veterans decided to establish the American Legion Ambulance Service (ALAS) and Post rather than building a 33rd bar in the town. “We didn’t think the town needed another bar, but we did need an ambulance,” he says. For $875, they purchased the Packard second-hand. Today, an unequipped ambulance sells for $150,000.
On their first call, they were summoned to transport the town doctor, who had suffered a stroke. “The most we had in those days was a first aid kit and some wooden splints,” he says. “Now there are lots of regulations to keep up with, but it means better care.”
Today, folks have the comfort of knowing that two ambulances and a corps of trained volunteers are at the ready. An Advanced Life Support unit and three members with advanced certification provide enhanced life-saving support. Recently, a fly car was purchased to serve as a first response vehicle containing equipment such as a defibrillator unit and oxygen.
“We do a yearly mailing for income,” says Chuck. “People are very generous. They understand the value.” That generosity allowed them to purchase a generator and to serve as an emergency evacuation center that was open for eight days during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Nearly 220 people were helped and 500 meals were served. “We had cots and air mattresses,” he says. “Two people needed oxygen tanks filled. We sent the fly car to check on elderly folks and took supplies to NYC.”
Over the years, Chuck has served in many roles, including his current involvement as treasurer/trustee/deacon at the Eldred Congregational Church. He’s received abundant accolades for his selfless contributions to community life, including a proclamation naming May 19 Chuck Myers Day. Yet he was surprised to be honored by the ALAS when they dedicated their new headquarters in his name. “Humble and proud—that’s how I felt,” he says.
During construction of the building, Chuck broke his back in a fall from a ladder. He came back from the hospital by ambulance and asked to see the progress on the building before going home.
Now 87, Chuck is still an active member of the ALAS. Although he won’t renew his EMT license when it expires next year, he plans to continue volunteering. A life member of the Yulan Fire Department who served as fire chief for three years, Chuck is also the secretary/treasurer of the ambulance corps and treasurer of the American Legion, where he served two years as Commander.
Why does he do it? “I just like this little town,” he says. “I enjoy helping people, whether putting out their fires or taking them to the hospital. I’ve had the chance to hold a newborn in my arms. It’s all been my passion. I can’t say I enjoy being where people are ill or injured, but I do enjoy the fact that I’m able to help them.”