Longtime firefighter and former chief Jerry Borgmann has seen his share of fires, but the Union area man also knows his way around a lumberyard.
Borgmann, 76, was born in 1936 in St. Louis; his mother was from St. Louis, but his father was originally from the Beaufort area. When Borgmann was less than 1 year old, the family moved back to his father’s birthplace.
He is the baby of the family of five boys, and was the last effort by his parents for a baby girl.
“My mom tried one more time for a girl, but got me,” he joked. “I was supposed to be Geraldine.”
Borgmann attended classes in the one-room Adams School on Old State Road. It was one of about 11 elementary schools that eventually made up Beaufort School when the Union R-XI District was reorganized.
He explained that he began school early and was younger than many of the other students, which he says came back to “bite him,” later in his school career.
After attending Adams School, Borgmann went to Union High School, which then was just one building where Union Middle School is now located.
“I turned 16 the June before my senior year,” he said. “I had to hitch a ride or walk to Beaufort where my schoolmates lived.”
There was no football field or other sports fields at the school while Borgmann was there, and it was difficult for him to stay after school anyway.
“Being a country boy it was hard doing sports,” he explained. “It was hard for us to get home.”
He graduated at age 16 and the Class of 1953 still holds reunions, according to Borgmann. There are about 12 members, many who are married couples from the same class, who meet regularly.
Post High School
After graduating, Borgmann went to work for Boland Feed Store, which was located behind Voss’ Market off Highway 50. He drove a truck and conducted odd jobs for the company.
In the summer of 1956, he and “another farm boy” began work for Union Electric as “brush killers” under power lines.
They used pump-operated back sprayers filled with dangerous chemicals and sprayed around the base of vegetation that was under the overhead lines.
“That stuff was so bad it would eat the soles of our work shoes — it made them spread out,” he said. “I got the most terrible rash from walking in the stuff and getting that spray on me. It was bad stuff.”
Borgmann trekked a path that ran east to west through the Krakow and Clearview areas.
“I learned a lot of the area and the backroads,” he said.
Borgmann added that there was an opportunity to take a job with the power company, but neither he nor his friend wanted to leave the area to work out of Flat River.
Then, in 1956, he landed a job at Hall Brothers Lumber, and that job turned into a lifelong career.
The business was owned by John and Stanley Hall and there were two yards — one in Union and the other in Gerald.
At first, he drove a truck for the company, but in 1960, he became a sales clerk.
“You did everything back in the early days,” Borgmann said. “That’s where I learned how to build.”
He said that builders would come to the store and purchase what they needed, but eventually the industry changed as employees began to make more of those decisions.
“Later we would take plans and tell them how many two-by-fours and sheets they needed,” Borgmann said. “We didn’t go to school for it, that was from knowing and looking at the plans.”
Borgmann worked for Hall Brothers for 45 years. He retired in 2001.
“They treated me like family and I treated them like family,” he said.
At his retirement party, Hall Brothers purchased a brand-new Ford pickup truck for Borgmann. It was the first new truck he had ever owned.
“I always drove old trucks, never new ones,” he said.
His experience from Hall Brothers lent Borgmann the skills as a carpenter and repairman. He finished the home that was built in 1985 for him and his wife Sharon off Highway AJ.
He also has repaired and installed garage doors, which he still does today.
Borgmann joined the department in 1967 four years before it became a fire district in 1971. He worked out of the station located at the corner of Church and Locust streets above where the Union police station had been housed.
Prior to that, he served on a Beaufort department for two years.
He served as the fire chief from 1979 to 1987.
Over the years, Borgmann has held several other leadership positions within the fire department including captain, second assistant chief, first assistant chief, fire chief and treasurer.
He served on the committees which were responsible for designing and building the department’s three station houses.
One major event he remembers was the flood of the Bourbeuse River in 1982.
“We sandbagged at Wal-Mart and IGA to no avail,” he remembers. “We lost both.”
Borgmann added that firefighters would stay longer after a flooding incident to help clean.
“We washed floors, squeegeed, dumpstered stuff,” he said.
Crystal Ice and Fuel flooded often and firefighters were at the scene often, he said.
They also pumped water from basements, including several homes on East Main Street.
“Those flooded many a time,” he said.
During that 1982 flood, Borgmann sent a crew to the station out of East Central College because the bridge over the river on Highway 50 was becoming impassable.
“Once the Bourbeuse River flooded we were cut off from that side of the district,” he said. “We had to have some fire protection on that side.
“I was the last one over the bridge,” he added. “That was an eerie feeling.”
Borgmann had been living in Union while with the fire department, and once he left the city, and after an injury, he responded to fewer calls.
“After I broke my ankle it took something out of me,” he said.
He also served on the district’s board of directors for 11 years. Borgmann is now a senior active member of the force.
Borgmann has four children, three boys and a girl. Two are with his wife and the other two from a previous marriage.
They have five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, with one on the way. All the family live in the area, the furthest is at the Lake of the Ozarks, Borgmann noted.
He is active in the First United Methodist Church of Union, and is the chairman of the board of directors. He is in charge of the expansion project now under way at the church.
Borgmann’s pride and joy is a 1964 pea green Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 Holiday Coupe. The car has 47,000 miles and no rust.
“I always tell him he thinks more of the car than his wife,” jokes Sharon.
A few years ago, the couple took on the task of photographing each of the 11 one-room schools that became part of Beaufort Elementary. He said about 75 percent of those have been converted into homes where people now live.
Borgmann also was a member of a committee which developed the greenhouse complex at Union High School.
In 2003, Borgmann was honored by the community with the Union Area Chamber of Commerce Long Haul Service Award. The award is given to a community member over the age of 65 who has made a significant impact in the Union area.