Bryan, Tx To every member of the Bryan Fire Department, Marilyn Zapalac is family. Not only is she like a sister, aunt or daughter to the firefighters, she's their cheerleader and in many ways she's their guardian angel who looks after them, and only wants the best for her guys.
And each time she sees her guys, a cheerful greeting awaits them, "My guys! Hi, How ya doing Marilyn? Jurgen, I'm happy seeing you, what are you up to?" says Marilyn Zapalac.
Hugs, laughter, jokes and singing. It's a tradition Marilyn Zapalac has started over at the Bryan Fire Department's Station One, but that's not the only way she's remembered at all five firehouses.
Firefighter Adam Temple says, "At about 8 o'clock she'll call every fire station, every night right at eight and talk to somebody and if nobody's there, she'll call back until she gets somebody."
She calls to wish EVERYONE a goodnight, but that's not the only way she honors her firefighter friends, Marilyn's scrapbooking shows just how dear the department is to her.
"Some of these go back, back to 1998, 1997, 1985, 1986," says Zapalac.
Like the history she's gathered over the years, Assistant Fire Chief Ricky Van says, his friendship with Marilyn began when he moved into her neighborhood back in the eighties, "I went out to be friendly, be a friendly neighbor and got to talking with them and somewhere in the conversation, it came up that I was a fireman and all of a sudden, Marilyn went screaming into the house. I thought I had done something wrong and her sister said something to the effect of you've done it now or something like that and the next thing you know, she come outside and she had this photo album."
Page after page in those precious photo albums are old cards, touching thank you notes, lots of pictures and yellowing clippings of past fires fought by her heroes.
"That's ah, Mikey," Zapalac affectionately says when she looks a photo from years past.
To Marilyn, he may be Mikey, but to others he was Chief Mike Donoho and in her carefully assembled archives, a glimpse of what was yet to come, a photo of current Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor pasted and preserved in her archives.
And when visiting the fire station, Zapalac greets everyone in her unique way, "Hey Jonas, well how are you? How are you doing?"
Though Jonas Brooks has only seen a few of the books, Marilyn's efforts have left him in awe.
Jonas Brooks says, "I thought it was really neat that she has so much history that I've never seen of the Bryan Fire Department."
But not all of the memories within the pages are happy, Marilyn has even cataloged the department's darkest day, the fire at the Knight's of Columbus Hall that claimed the lives of Lieutenants Eric Wallace and Greg Pickard.
Tearfully, Zapalac says while looking at a photo, "They were my heroes."
But when the moment came to welcome home firefighters Ricky Mantey and Mitch Moran who were seriously burned in that very fire, standing with her firefighter family, Marilyn was there to celebrate their homecoming. Overcome with emotion, she tearfully hugged both young men and personally welcomed them home.
Zapalac says, "Oh, I definitely love them. My life would fall apart without them. That's right, These are my guys, that's right, I dearly love them, nobody can have them."
"She's definitely our number one fan, so we've become her fan," says Van.
A sentiment that Brooks agrees with, "We love her, she's a part of our family.
Marilyn has done such a wonderful and impressive job with her scrapbooks and because of her efforts and tedious work, which has been a labor of love, much of the department's history has been preserved. After seeing the albums, some of the department's staff will be going through her many books to make copies of some of the articles and photos because only then, will the station's archives can be as carefully organized as Marilyn's.