Q&A: Almost a lifetime of service to the RFD

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Wilhermine 'Billee' Friszolowski is still a Yankees fan at 91 — and proud of it. As a youth, she often went to games in The Bronx with her husband, Frank, when he worked at her father's liquor store on Peconic Avenue.

Wilhermine “Billee” Friszolowski has been an active member of the Riverhead Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary for 65 of the organization’s 80 years.

The 91-year-old was a student in the first class to graduate from Riverhead’s original high school on Roanoke Avenue. Her mother, Hermine, was a charter member of the Ladies Auxiliary and her father, William, was a member of the department’s fire patrol company, as well as a Riverhead police officer and owner of Walter’s Liquor Store on Peconic Avenue. In 1946, she married Frank Friszolowski, who worked with her father at the liquor store and became a 34-year member of the department’s fire police patrol company. He died in 1983.

Her volunteer work aside, Ms. Friszolowski did switchboard work for several years in Town Hall’s front office. She has held every position of office in the auxiliary, including president, and has served as its sergeant-at-arms for the past 22 years.

Ms. Friszolowski’s many years of service were celebrated last week at fire headquarters, and on Tuesday she was issued a proclamation in Town Hall. We sat down with her after the festivities for an interview.

Q: What does the Ladies Auxiliary do?

A: We help the firemen, mostly. Years ago, we had cake sales and when the men had their monthly meeting, the women would hold a dinner for them. Every year at the annual motorized tournaments, Stella Tradeski and I would take money at the same gate. I was on the parade team, too.

Q: What does the sergeant-at-arms do?

A: I just make sure the ladies are quiet, that they’re not talking all the time [so we can] have a meeting. I announce guests when they come and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve been in every position that we have at the auxiliary, some of them twice over.

Q: How has the Ladies Auxiliary changed throughout the years?

A: The ladies are all getting older and we just can’t do the things we used to and we can’t get younger people to come in because I think their husbands don’t want them at the firehouse. I’ve heard that a few times.

Q: How has Riverhead changed since you were a kid?

A: There’s been quite a few changes. The downtown has changed; the whole town has. There weren’t so many stores downtown and we didn’t have all those businesses on 58; it was just a road to go on. It was all trees. Stotzky Park was nothing but woods.

Q: How did you meet your husband?

A: I knew him a bit in school. He was four years older than I am, but he was kind of quiet and never bothered with anyone. His brother was the same way. I used to go down in the car to South Jamesport where he lived and see if he was there. A buddy of his was going with my sister and I think that’s more or less how we got to know each other. We went together about four years or more. We went to the movies downtown every once in a while and went swimming on Sundays at my parent’s bungalow on the beach, just east of Iron Pier.

Q: What’s a signal 8?

A: That’s a call out to a fire and if the chief asked us, we’d go out and bring sandwiches and coffee for the men, if we knew they’d be out on a fire for a while. Sometimes we’d make hundreds of sandwiches, late at night.

Q: What do you think of the new firehouse?

A: Oh, I love it! It used to be about a quarter the size it is now when it was on Second Street. Believe it or not, I haven’t seen all of the new firehouse and it’ll be four years now that it’s been across the street from my house. You wouldn’t even know it’s there because they don’t blow any sirens any more.

Q: How did you get involved with the Ladies Auxiliary?

A: My mother wanted me to join when I was 23, so that I could drive her and three or four other ladies to the meetings. Before I joined, I’d pick them up and wait for them after the meeting. They would have their annual banquet at Demetrio’s Garden Restaurant on West Main Street, just east of Griffing Avenue, and after dinner, the ladies — there were only about 10 or 12 at the time — would play cards for awhile and they’d invite me to play cards because otherwise they’d have no way to get home.

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: I was in the first class to graduate from Riverhead’s first high school on Roanoke Avenue, which is now an elementary school. I went through sixth grade at the wooden school that was in the parking lot, attended seventh and eighth grade in the bottom part of the Roanoke Avenue school and high school in a couple classrooms in the upstairs of that school. The wooden school ended up burning down.

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