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Ray and Brenda Bullerman are leading ‘team players’ in community

ADRIAN -- In a town of slightly more than 1,200 people, two stand out as key figures in keeping the community of Adrian safe and healthy: Ray and Brenda Bullerman.

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Ray and Brenda Bullerman of Adrian are both very active in the Adrian community. (Special to the Daily Globe)

ADRIAN - In a town of slightly more than 1,200 people, two stand out as key figures in keeping the community of Adrian safe and healthy: Ray and Brenda Bullerman.

As the couple prepares to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary in August, they’ve kept their vows not only to each other but also to Adrian.

Nevertheless, the modest pair declines to boast about their contributions; the twosome would sooner share the credit with their co-workers, friends, neighbors and fellow volunteers than bask in the glow of self-congratulation and personal glory.

Besides being community leaders, the Bullermans are definitely team players.

For instance, Ray has been a part of the Adrian Fire Department since 2000, serving as its fire chief since March 2010. With duties including the oversight of scheduling the department’s 26 firefighters, arranging for ongoing training, maintaining equipment and being the go-to PR guy, Ray quickly deflects praise to others.

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“Our firefighters and EMTs are heroes, sure, but the unsung heroes are the people who employ us and let us go whenever we need to,” said Ray, himself a nine-year employee of Carl’s Farm Store of Adrian.

“They should be thanked as much as or more than we are, because they’re paying us wages even when we have to leave for calls, usually up to two hours at a time,” he added.

“I commend all the employers for letting us do what we do and understanding the need for firefighting and emergency services in this community.”

Brenda, meanwhile, is the current president of the Adrian Ambulance Service. A physician’s assistant (P.A.) at Sanford Clinic, Adrian, Brenda joined the ambulance service in 2005. Ray followed in 2008.

“Some of the guys who were on the crew then talked me into it,” said Ray. “At first I wasn’t sure it was for me, but now I really enjoy it.

“When you go to a scene and help people out, you’re seeing them at their worst, but a few days or maybe a week later, they can be doing so much better - and it’s pretty gratifying to see that.”

Today, the Bullermans are among 11 Adrian residents on the Adrian Ambulance Service. A few other people (from Slayton and Tyler) assist with on-call shifts, and Brenda mentioned she is currently working to train four others for the duty.

Sweethearts in service The Bullermans began dating during their days as Adrian High School (AHS) students. Ray, the fourth of Ted and Henrietta Bullerman’s sixth children, graduated from AHS in 1979. Brenda, who moved to Adrian as a second grader with her parents and younger brother Brett Diede, is a 1981 AHS alumna.

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“We were married in 1982,” said Brenda. “I’d always wanted to be a doctor, but I fell in love and got married,” she said, smiling at her spouse.

Initially, Brenda earned a one-year LPN degree at what is now Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Ray farmed for a few years.

After six years as an LPN, Brenda attended then-Worthington Community College to complete educational requirements for registered nursing. But she set a still higher goal.

“I worked with another R.N. at Arnold Memorial Hospital who was encouraging and told me, ‘You need to go and do this,’ and she helped me find the necessary information to advance,” said Brenda, who proceeded to tackle P.A. school at the University of Grand Forks in 1993.

By then, the couple had two young daughters - Brooke and Abby. Ray was supportive of his wife and stepped in to help fill the household gaps during the three five-week periods that Brenda had to spend in Grand Forks, N.D.

“It was a big decision for her, but we decided together it would be better for us,” said Ray. “Looking back, it was a very good decision.”

More than 20 years later, the Bullermans express continued gratitude to their respective mothers for their help with childcare during that difficult year.

“The most challenging part was balancing my work and studies with family life because when I was here, I was doing my preceptorship for eight to 10 hours a day, then coming home to help the kids with their homework and bedtime routines, and then tackling my own homework,” reflected Brenda.

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“I remember doing papers at 2 a.m., saying to Ray I didn’t think I could ever get through it - but it was worth it.”

Brenda remains grateful for the faith the local hospital placed in her, as the bulk of her educational costs were covered by the facility as long as she guaranteed to five years of service.

“I’m in my 23rd year here as a P.A.,” Brenda noted. “I enjoy taking care of entire families, and we see a variety of urgent care, illness and injury cases, too.”

Sacrificing for the greater good In 2000, the Bullermans moved into Adrian from the country, and that transition understandably coincided with Ray’s Adrian Fire Department tenure.

Because of their familiarity with both country and town living, the pair was ideally suited for another duty: Involvement with Adrian’s Town and Country Association, which essentially took over where the former Adrian Jaycees and Chamber of Commerce left off.

Each July, the community hosts Town and Country Days, or “Ribs and Rims,” with a rib feed coordinated by the fire department, bands and other events of interest.

“It’s always the third weekend of July, and a lot of former community members gather here then, and there are often class reunions on that weekend,” commented Brenda. “We want to keep the celebration going so we don’t lose all of that.”

For three years, Ray was president of the Town and Country Association; he continues to coordinate shift scheduling for food service provided by the area fire departments (Adrian, Ellsworth, Lismore and Rushmore), all of which benefit from the weekend’s proceeds.

“People in the surrounding communities have been very good about contributing to the cause, and each department gets between $3,000 and $3,500 annually,” shared Ray. “That’s a big boost for us when it comes to training costs and buying equipment.”

“We’re getting a few younger people involved to keep things rolling,” said Brenda, adding that a core group of about 30 people is active with Town and Country Association event planning, which extends to a December basketball tournament for seventh- and eighth-graders, St. Patrick’s Day activities, an annual steak fry and local appearances by Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Hometown pride and appreciation It’s obvious to Ray that “the town is aging, there aren’t as many young people here as before,” but he is cheered by the knowledge that so many others have also been willing to make it all work.

“We’ve been very fortunate; whenever we’ve put ads in the paper for firefighters, someone always steps up,” said Ray. “We have 26 guys in the department right now, and that’s a full department - and we’ve always stayed full.”

Ray and Brenda recognize that it’s vital to have a viable fire department and ambulance service in a small, rural community like Adrian.

“It’s a necessity,” declared Ray. “Without them, our household insurance rates would rise and response times for fires and other emergencies would be a lot longer.”

Added Brenda, “It would add a full half-hour to response times if crews had to drive from Worthington or Luverne.

“Our city has been very instrumental in doing what’s needed to maintain these services.”

Ray reports that the Adrian Fire Department made 94 runs in 2016. He urges anyone in the surrounding area who might be interested in becoming an EMT to contact him or Brenda.

“These are critical services for our community, and for our citizens’ safety,” he repeated.

Although the time Ray and Brenda devote to their professional and community roles can be demanding, they can’t imagine doing anything differently.

“Sure, there are some sacrifices,” said Ray, who is also a Knights of Columbus member. “When I first joined the fire department, it took 100 hours of training, and yeah, I missed some of our girls’ activities - they both played basketball.”

Besides her P.A. position at Sanford Clinic Adrian, where she works with a full-time staff of five and is a preceptor for medical trainees from University of South Dakota, Vermillion, Brenda is an EMT instructor at Minnesota West in Worthington. Additionally, she cares for clients’ health needs at the New Life Treatment Center in Woodstock two evenings each month.

“We’ve talked about moving, but I value my patients here and I can’t say goodbye to them,” said Brenda. “I just feel a part of it, and yes, we have a sense of ownership in this community.”

During the summer months, the Bullermans make a point of taking short get-aways to Lake Shaokatan (north of Lake Benton). They also love spending time with their daughters and grandchildren.

“Brooke and Abby are both married and live in Sioux Falls,” said Brenda. “Brooke is also a P.A., and Abby is an R.N.”

With two young granddaughters and two step-granddaughters to keep up with, family visits are frequent and fun. Ray is also glad his mother, Henrietta, remains healthy and in her own Adrian home.

“I’m very proud of my daughters,” assured Ray. “I’m glad they followed in their mother’s footsteps to the healthcare field.”

Years of experience with fire and ambulance calls have taught Ray to cherish each moment and not take for granted what truly makes life good.

“I’m happy my kids and grandkids are healthy,” he said simply. “When you see house fires, you realize that’s all just material stuff. If you don’t lose lives, that’s the biggest thing.”

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