Hugh Garner thought he was going to EMS Station 2 to help move boxes, but he was in for a big surprise.
On July 15, friends, family members and co-workers threw a surprise party for Garner at the station on East Tipton Street in Seymour to celebrate his upcoming retirement.
His last day working for Jackson County EMS will be Aug. 20.
Valleri Curry helped organize the celebration and has worked with Garner for many years.
“Hugh has worked here 30 years, and he’s dedicated, a leader, an educator, a good friend and co-worker and we just want to see him off,” Curry said. “He has taught so many of us, and now, it’s his time to sit back and live his life to the fullest.”
Her son, Hunter Curry, was in on the surprise, too.
“What I like about Hugh is his dedication to service,” he said. “I’ll be 23 in November, so I’ve known Hugh over 20 years.”
Mark Gillaspy said he worked with Garner for four years before being hired as an inspector for the Seymour Fire Department.
“I think he’s great. Hugh is a great mentor and a great leader,” Gillaspy said. “With Hugh, it always came down to what was best for the community and the patients, and he made sure Jackson County EMS always held the higher standards for that.”
Nate Bryant, executive director of Jackson County EMS, was the one who made sure Hugh came to the surprise party by asking him to come over to the station to help him move boxes.
“I used my son to distract him because we had a staff meeting at 9 a.m. this morning, and so I had to keep Hugh entertained for 45 minutes,” Bryant said. “I told my son, Trenton, ‘This is your job,’ so they looked at a rock collection in his office, and finally, I asked if Hugh was ready to go.”
Until they opened the door to come in, Garner had no idea what was up.
The 66-year-old said he was overwhelmed.
“I had told my wife if someone contacted her about a party, tell them no,” he said. “But I do appreciate everybody’s effort and everyone that was there for my retirement party.”
Some of the attendees included county commissioners and councilmen, the EMS human resources director, four members of the sheriff’s department, including Sheriff Rick Meyer, and others from the community.
Garner said as an educator, he can get up in front of 500 people and present a topic with no problem, but when he gets put in the forefront where people are saying, “Look what he has done,” he hates it.
He has worked for Jackson County EMS since Jan. 1, 1991, as the education and quality assurance coordinator. He also teaches EMT basic and paramedic classes at Ivy Tech Community College in Madison.
It has been his job to ensure there are continuing education offerings, making sure the employees maintain their certifications, facilitating the audit and review process and more.
Garner became interested in the field of EMS in the late 1960s.
“It was probably around 1968. I was a teenager, and we lived on a 26-acre lake,” Garner said. “Our neighbor was retired, and he and I were fishing buddies and he taught me a lot about fishing and fly fishing.”
Garner’s elderly neighbor had a heart condition and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital on at least a couple of different occasions.
“The ambulance was a volunteer organization in our community at the time, and when his wife called, they came and got him,” Garner said. “The first time, they took him on to the hospital, and the second time, he wanted me to go with him, so they put me in the front seat of the ambulance.”
Garner rode to the hospital with his neighbor and stayed with him, but unfortunately, his neighbor didn’t come home.
“I was very impressed by the way the people approached him, talked to him, handled him and treated him, and so that kind of drew me into EMS,” he said. “I started in this field the spring of 1972, and I’m actually in my 49th year of being an EMT.”
He also works part time at King’s Daughters’ Health in Madison as a paramedic field supervisor.
“I’m going to maintain my part-time status and work there a couple of shifts a month until next year, which will be my 50th year in EMS, and that’s a personal goal,” Garner said.
He also is an Indiana High School Athletic Association official, which is something he started doing in 1980 with refereeing basketball and umpiring high school baseball. A couple of years later, he picked up softball and volleyball.
“Right now, I officiate high school and college volleyball, and then I still do some basketball in the winter and then baseball and softball in the spring,” he said. “For the IHSAA, I’ve worked the baseball state finals four times, and then I’ve worked volleyball state finals once and softball state finals once, so in total, I’ve worked six state finals.”
At the surprise party, Garner was given a small skeleton wearing umpire gear.
“That was from Tracy Jones, my counterpart in Jennings County EMS, as far as education coordinator and quality assurance,” he said. “I taught her and mentored her to be a primary instructor, and I umpired when she played at Jennings County and was a catcher, and now, she coaches summer league softball.”
As for retirement, Garner is looking forward to having time to catch up on chores and upgrades around the house.
“Also, I bought a really nice camera for the wife and haven’t had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with it, so I want to learn how to use this camera and do some photography,” Garner said.
About three years ago, he began learning how to smoke pork and beef and doing some culinary things.
“I’m not a chef, but my mom taught me how to cook in the basic aspect, so I really enjoy cooking,” he said. “What I like is watching people enjoy what you’ve fixed.”
He said he also is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, family, kids and grandkids.
“Jackson County has been really good to me, and Dennis Brasher hired me and allowed me to expand my wings and do a lot of new things educationally,” Garner said.
Garner and his wife, Annabet, live in Madison, where she is an educator at Ivy Tech for medical assisting and has worked there for about 30 years.
The couple have been married since June 1995.
“He really does have a tender heart, and he doesn’t have expectations of being recognized,” Annabet said of her husband. “He’s passionate about EMS and has served in EMS because he loves his community.”
Annabet said Hugh has the oldest active EMS certification in Indiana right now. He has a passion for it and for serving his community.
“I don’t know if Hugh has a legacy he wants to leave, but the one thing I hope he leaves here is an example of how to serve,” she said.
Hugh said the key thing he wants to be remembered for is that the people he has responded to received quality, compassionate care.
“Also for those I have taught, I hope they’ve taken away the importance of treating people with quality care and compassion and keeping up with their skills and maintaining a high standard of care,” he said. “Compassion is hard to teach, and you have to help people understand they have to be compassionate.”
Garner said being passionate about what you’re doing is important, but being compassionate toward the people you’re doing it for is hard to teach. It has to come from the internal aspect of how we thrive.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished those things, but any time you start something, you want to leave it better than you found it, and I strive to do that every day,” he said.