Her grandfather signed on to volunteer for Gaston's Fire Department in 1957. He was in high school. The teen helped put out some barn fires, a sawdust pile that caught fire, and several house blazes in the area.

'I enjoyed it from the beginning,' Skip Mather says.

He didn't know it then, but nearly 50 years later, his volunteer work would have a huge influence on one young girl - his own granddaughter, Elli.

When 17-year-old Elli Kemp was a little girl, she always thought it was 'cool' when her grandpa had to suddenly get up and leave the house. Elli says her grandfather always had a radio on him, or a scanner within earshot, and when he got a call to a fire or an emergency of any kind that she somehow understood the importance of what his volunteer work entailed.

'Just … knowing he was saving lives,' Elli says about her grandfather, today a decades-long volunteer for the Forest Grove City and Rural Fire Protection District.

Elli's admiration of her granddad's fire-fighting didn't stop there though. She didn't just look up to him. She wanted to be him.

Like grandpa like granddaughter? Yes.

Last year Elli signed up for the local fire cadet program. She says that 95 percent of the reason she signed on was because of her grandpa.

Cadet Elli has spent a year learning about ladders, hoses, tying knots and search-and-rescue. She goes on ride-a-longs, where she sees first-hand what the real firefighters do in real life. She even recently helped burn down a house where local firefighters practiced their skills. In fact, Elli's grandpa oversaw that project as the incident command officer.

'It's a good experience for me,' Elli says. 'It's definitely hard work and not just fun.'

Elli has not only learned about fires, but also about people. Today she doesn't just look up to her grandpa - she also is getting to know him as a man.

'He's a good guy,' a relaxed, friendly, and unassuming man, Elli says. 'He gets along with pretty much everybody.'

The teen grew especially close to her grandpa when she spent time with his mother, her great-grandmother, when she was 13 years old. Skip's mother had Alzheimer's disease and Elli remembers sitting with her and listening to her stories. Grandpa would regularly come to the house or call to check in and see if they were okay. Skip often attended young Elli's tennis matches and soccer games.

'He's always been a big part of my life,' Elli says, beaming. She has learned about herself in the process as well.

Elli plans to go into nursing after high school graduation. She wants to continue the family legacy of helping to save lives.

'Just the feeling you get to be able to do that and know how to do it,' Ellis says in an attempt to explain why she is drawn to nursing.

When Elli's Grandma Peggi couldn't attend the fire department's recent Spouse Appreciation Dinner, Grandpa Skip asked Elli if she'd accompany him to the event. Grandpa needed a special guest. After all, it was a special night. Skip was going to receive special recognition for his 35 years of service to the department and to the communities he has served all of these years.

That evening Skip got up to say thank you for the special recognition. No speech. No fanfare. Skip just said a simple and heartfelt thanks. Like many longtime community volunteers Skip isn't one for much attention and public adulation.

But Skip says he did take the opportunity that evening to introduce his special date to the mayor. 'This is my granddaughter. She's a cadet,' Skip simply said.

Elli acknowledges her grandpa is proud of her. 'He's seen what I've gone through in life and how much I've improved,' she says.

At the dinner Elli received a bouquet of flowers from her beloved grandpa. She was honored, but a little embarrassed at the special attention. 'They were supposed to be grandma's,' Elli humbly admits.

Yes. Like grandfather… like granddaughter.

Jonathan Kipp is a Forest Grove freelance writer. Send him ideas for columns at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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