ROCKINGHAM — Family and friends gathered Tuesday evening at the Richmond County Rescue Squad station No. 2 to remember Joe Kester’s life.
Kester was with the rescue squad for two and a half years after working at the Cheraw Yarn Mill in South Carolina for 25 years. The former lieutenant died of a heart attack on June 30, 2012.
When the mill closed in 2008, Kester fell into a slump, his widow Betty said.
She said he decided to volunteer because his father had been a first responder.
“It made him a whole different person,” she said. “He loved helping people.”
She said she would pester him about spending so much time down at the station.
Kester later went to work with Braveheart Medical Transport in Laurinburg.
One of Kester’s former squad mates, Melissa Schoonover, organized the memorial.
“He was the best friend I ever had, and I didn’t want his memory to die out,” she said.
Kester and Schoonover were voted in on the same night in December 2009.
“I texted him and told him we’d both got in,” she said. “He was excited.”
In his short time with the squad, Kester won two awards: Squadman of the year in 2010, and officer of the year in 2011.
“If he would’ve lived longer, he probably would’ve got a lot more,” Schoonover said. “Anything he did, he did it full-force.”
She said if anyone was having a bad day, “he’d do anything to make you laugh.”
The service began with a meal of hot dogs and hamburgers.
“He loved to come down here and cook and run calls,” said Lt. Heather Smith. “He loved what he did.”
She said a memorial plaque will be hung in the living room of the station in Kester’s honor.
Two wooden benches, which used to sit by the front door of the station, will be dedicated to Kester and sit in a memorial garden near the flagpole.
Several folding display boards were set up with pictures of Kester’s life. Uniform items including two shirts and a recently lettered helmet were also on display.
White memorial candles flickered as the group watched a video with pictures of Kester’s life set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” and a second video with pictures of Kester and his wife with Journey’s “Open Arms” playing in the background.
Following the video, the service moved outside where squad members lowered the flag, which had been at half-staff since Monday, and presented it to Kester’s widow.
She was also presented a plaque in honor of Kester’s wild sense of humor. Squad members gave Kester’s helmet to his brother John.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-997-3111, ext. 16.