BY DAN GITRO
Union Grove was a well-known locale way before the growth hit Iredell County in the mid 2000’s. Prior to the big growth we know today, Union Grove was already on the map. That’s right. This little community of farms, mills, and churches first made its first mark in 1924, when H.P. VanHoy started the Fiddlers Convention to raise money for the Union Grove School, a single-room school with one teacher. The music convention started out small, but by 1969 over 10,000 people from across the country descended into Union Grove for the show.
In 1964 community members saw a need for a fire department in Union Grove. The closest fire stations were in Harmony to the east and Central School to the west. A community meeting was held at the Union Grove School to discuss the need for a local fire department. During the meeting, some of the folks in attendance stepped outside after they saw a glow in the sky. They eventually found one of the local mills engulfed in flames. Departments from all over Iredell County and surrounding counties responded to fight the blaze.
Community members decided on May 15, 1964, to create the Union Grove Volunteer Fire Department. Shortly afterward, members of the newly established fire department, along with community members, built their first station at 1864 W Memorial Highway. For 50 years, dedicated volunteers raced to this two-bay fire station to answer emergency calls.
Today, things are a bit different. Union Grove Volunteer Fire Department moved into its new fire station in 2014 after Chief Nolan Shumaker secured 10 acres of land right down the street from the original fire house at 1994 W. Memorial Highway. Union Grove operates two engines, two tankers, three brush trucks, two medical trucks, a medium-duty rescue, a support utility truck and brand new UTV for off-road calls. The department also has a brand new tanker on order and will arrive this year.
Shumaker has been chief of the department since the early 2000’s. Current Deputy Chief, Atley Brown, is also past chief of the department. Paul Allison, Cole Cass and Ken Hansel are the assistant chiefs.
Anyone who lives in Union Grove knows the most dedicated firefighter in the department. He’s affectionately known as “The Ladies Man.” Of course, I am talking about none other than Captain Mike Keller. He has been a staple in the fire department for over 25 years and has been the top responder in the department for all those years. Mike has consistently won top responder for 25 straight years. He is a wealth of information and a true firefighter. He has a house filled with firefighter memorabilia and hard-to-find artifacts from the fire service going back years and years. Mike is a modest man and you can typically find him at the firehouse with his work clothes on ready to get his hands dirty.
Thank you to all the firefighters at the Union Grove Fire Department. Your dedication to your community and to your mutual aid partners is invaluable. I’m glad to call some of you my friends, and I look forward to working with you more in the future.
Dan Gitro is the founder of Iredell Firewire.