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Pempel puts his ‘time to good use’

Everywhere he’s lived, Dan Pempel has been a servant to the youth and the rest of his community. Since he retired and moved to Cumberland County in 2003, that community has been here in the Heart of Virginia.

Upon moving here from New York, Pempel joined the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD) and has worked for it consistently since then.

He also volunteers for Cumberland 4-H, providing instruction in shooting sports.

“And I was helping out with the (junior) ROTC rifle team in Cumberland, because I liked coaching,” Pempel said. “When I came down here, I had plenty of time, so I decided to put my time to good use.”

He was born and raised in the village of Valley Stream on Long Island in Nassau County, New York. While serving as an airline customer service agent for his primary job, he began volunteering as a firefighter in 1973 for the Valley Stream Fire Department.

“My father was a volunteer in Valley Stream also,” Pempel said, “and I went to one of the functions down in the fire department, and I was working nights at the time. And when they found out I was working nights, they more or less wanted me, and I joined because they’re usually always short on daytime firemen.”

He noted that his sons were involved with high school athletics, and they both became involved in shooting sports on the rifle team. This helped draw him into an extended run as a shooting coach.

Sponsoring most of the sports in the area was the Nassau County Police Athletic League, now known as the Nassau County Police Activity League, he said.

“I wound up coaching with (the) Police Athletic League for probably 20-plus years,” Pempel said.

He added that his son, Daniel, was an excellent shooter on the rifle team, and it helped him get into the U.S. Air Force Academy. And then Pempel’s other son, John, wanted to join the team, also proving to be a good shot. Pempel was coaching three nights a week.

“And then I wound up at the high school, because the coach retired there, and they were state champions,” he said. “They were looking for a coach, so I came home and my son says, ‘Hey, we need a coach. You want to go down and talk?’ So my son drafted me for that one.”

Pempel said he found shooting was a good fit for some student-athletes who did not want to participate in sports like track.

“With shooting, it’s basically, I’d say, 60 percent all concentration,” he said, adding that the development of student-athletes’ ability to concentrate for sustained periods of time aided their academic performance as well.

John Pempel went on to work for the Valley Stream Fire Department.

After 38 years as an airline worker, Dan Pempel elected to retire and bought a house near his mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who live in Farmville.

Following Pempel’s start with the FVFD, the Randolph District Volunteer Fire Department in Cumberland became operational.

“So I’ve been running calls on both of them then,” he said.

For the last six years, he has also been taking photos at the scene of fires for The Herald.

“I was starting to get a little old for going in (to) the fires in the building,” said Pempel, who is 72. “So I had a camera, so if they had enough people, I took pictures and let the younger guys do the work.”

He is also involved in the Old Dominion Historical Fire Society.

“We’re preserving antique fire trucks, and I was volunteered to help or set up the antique fire truck musters (shows) at Wilck’s Lake,” he said.

Additionally, Pempel noted he is a member of the Heart of Virginia Classic Auto Club, “because I’m into antique cars too.”

In terms of what motivated him to become involved in community service, he said, “I more or less just wanted to keep occupied, do something, and when I started with the firehouse, I enjoyed doing that, and we did a lot of stuff with them.”

He said he enjoys the camaraderie he experiences as a firefighter as well as some of the competitive activities that different companies within the fire department take part in.

And then when it comes to coaching shooting, he said he has enjoyed that activity because the young people have been interested and wanted to be a part of it.

“So, I more less just said, ‘OK, as long as they’re interested, I’ll keep on coaching,’” Pempel said.