Something's amiss at dinnertime at the Station 2 firehouse in Santa Rosa with the passing of Huston “Hugh” Blake.
A 93-year-old ex-cavalry soldier, train engineer, municipal yard watchman and pusher of M&M's, Blake took a place often at the station's table. He joshed and regaled the firefighters he loved like his own children, and they thinly, playfully veiled their adoration for him.
“These are the best friends I got,” Blake announced during a pork-ribs meal with the crew of Station 2 two years ago.
“I never had anyone in my life treat me as good as these guys,” he said. “They treat me like family.”
Capt. Bob Hathaway advised Blake he was wrong yet again. Said the firefighter, “You are family, Hugh.”
Blake, also a daily favorite at Page's Diner on West College Avenue, was receiving regular visits from firefighters when he died Saturday at a Santa Rosa rehab hospital. He was robust until he fell ill with cancer a few months ago.
His daughter, Janie Grosman of Mesa, Ariz., said she feared he might give up when her mother, Bessie, his wife for 62 years, died in 2005.
Instead, Grosman said, “he decided he wasn't done yet.” Right up until the end, she said, “He went 100 miles an hour in the the slow lane.”
Blake was born in Meyers, Ky., and grew up in Fairfax, Ohio. He and his younger brother, Kenneth, still were teenagers when they joined the Ohio National Guard's 107th Cavalry Regiment in the 1930s.
They were training with horses when the U.S. entered World War II. Converted to active status in the army, Hugh Blake was sent to the Mojave Desert to train.
His firefighter pals loved the story of how he was playing craps with fellow GIs at Camp Young, near Indio, and won about $1,300 — a mountain of money in 1942.
Then 22, Blake loaned much of it to other soldiers and also bought a car — and wrecked it within about a week.