Donald Snyder, a firefighter in Wantagh for more than 60 years and a teacher for more than 40, taught his sons the value of teamwork and taking responsibility for their mistakes.
One of his sons, Keith Snyder, 61, recalled his father's lessons on Tuesday, a day after his dad, Donald Snyder, 89, received the statewide Fire Service Community Achievement Award from the Firemen's Association of the State of New York for his community service. The annual award honors a volunteer firefighter who is actively involved in one or more community service groups.
Keith Snyder said he will never forget getting into a fight with his older brother, Ron, that splintered a chair handmade by their father. They were both teenagers at the time.
"My dad said, 'Don't move,' " Keith Snyder recalled. "He walked downstairs and got into his little 1958 Volkswagen and left. So, my brother and I just sat down and looked at each other like, 'What the heck is next?' A couple of minutes later . . . he opens the door and throws a tube of Elmer's glue that hits my brother right in the chest. He said, 'I want this chair fixed by the morning,' and left. Ever since then, my brother and I have never had an argument."
Donald Snyder has been a commissioner of the Wantagh Fire Department for nearly 50 years and was the Farmingdale school district's athletic director for 30 years. He was also the deacon of the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown in the 1960s and 1970s.
Donald Snyder's achievements are on display in his Wantagh home, which serves as a museum of sorts, marking a lifetime of community service. When he was the coach of the Farmingdale High School football team from 1953 to 1992, he won 237 games, the most in the team's history. Despite those achievements, Snyder says that what has truly mattered to him in his life is helping others.
"I never thought of myself as a hero," said Donald Snyder, sitting in his kitchen. "I think I did the right things at the right times because of my upbringing."
He grew up in the small town of Le Roy, about 30 miles west of Rochester. He said his parents were selfless, even when they struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression.
"They taught me a sense that you could possibly be a help to somebody in trouble," Donald Snyder said.
Keith Snyder, the athletic director for the Levittown school district, said his father's stern, yet sensitive leadership influenced him greatly. As an athletic director he has followed his father's footsteps, working with young people.
"My brother and I had to work together for a common goal and make that wrong right and he gave us the means to do that," Keith Snyder said. "There was always a method to his madness, a reason for why he did things. He still does to this day."
Happy with his award, the elder Snyder said he hopes he has many years ahead to do more work in his community.
"As long as I have my health, I would like to continue to do what I love to do," he said. "I enjoy the people that I work with in the various things that I do. It keeps me going."