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91-year-old Missouri man rescues fire department with $500,000 donation

Sam Sloan, 91, decided to make good on a promise he made to himself decades ago when he got out of the cattle and seed processing business.

A 91-year-old’s $500,000 donation has saved a tiny Missouri volunteer fire company from certain doom.

In April, Sam Sloan decided to make good on a promise he made to himself decades ago when he got out of the cattle and seed processing business: donate to the Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department.

“They need the money once I had the money. I’d been saving money for a long time,” Sloan said Thursday.

Sloan had an idea of the how cash-strapped the fire company was because he lives about 2 miles from it.

Sam Sloan made a generous donation of $500,000 to the Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department.
Sam Sloan made a generous donation of $500,000 to the Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department.Courtesy Mark Hardin

“It’s a small community, and I knew how much money they had each year to work with. I was in business for 40 or 50 years in this community,” he added.

Calhoun, which is about 85 miles southeast of Kansas City, has a population of fewer than 500.

But Sloan had no idea that at the end of this year’s first quarter, it had only $169 left in its bank account.

“It’s like a Cinderella story, isn’t it?” Fire Chief Mark Hardin said.

Hardin took over as chief in 2021, when it was just one volunteer firefighter. Now it has grown to 29 members. He said that even then he knew it was in trouble.

“We were relying on donations from other departments. That’s the only way we could get by,” he said.

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Last month, Hardin said, he got a phone call out of the blue from Sloan, a man he’d never met or spoken to in his life. Sloan had a simple request of being treated to breakfast.

Mark Hardin, Chief of the Calhoun fire department.
Mark Hardin, chief of the Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department.Courtesy Mark Hardin

“He had a lot of questions about the fire department,” Hardin said.

But that was it. Then, a week later, another call and another ask for breakfast.

Week three came around, and the phone call came, but this time, Sloan invited Hardin to his home.

“There were cinnamon rolls and doughnuts on the table, and his bookkeeper was there. … His wife was there,” Hardin said. “Never had never talked to the man before in my life, and three weeks later, he hands me a check for half a million dollars.”

The fire company is already putting the money to use, having just completed buying a new engine it needed.

“Every penny we buy, we kind of get his permission. Just so he’s still involved in it with where his money is going,” Hardin said.

The Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department made Sam Sloan an honorary fire chief with a fire helmet.
The Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department made Sam Sloan an honorary fire chief with a fire helmet.Courtesy Mark Hardin

The firefighters also made Sloan an honorary fire chief.

“I really appreciate that they gave me a new chief, fire chief hat, and I’ve got it right here. Probably wear it once in a while; it really meant a lot to me,” Sloan said.

His only other terms for the gift: a large community barbecue once the department gets new uniforms and a request that the new fire engine leads the procession of his funeral.

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But Hardin and the rest of the company hope that won’t be for a long time.

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