By Bob Arnold
Until 2002, Ken Carraway was a rural Mississippian. Then he came to town, and became a volunteer.
“Volunteering is the key to town living,” he says. “In rural areas, where your nearest neighbors are several miles down the road from where you live, you live a relatively independent life focused on a few needs, but in a town, you must work with others to meet many more needs.”
It’s a life Carraway has learned to love since leaving Dentville in rural Copiah County about 10 miles from Hazlehurst, Crystal Springs and Utica to join other members of his family in 2002 who had resettled previously in the Wesson area. For Carraway, coming to town has meant sharing responsibility to help meet the needs of his home by working with his neighbors to guide local Boy Scouts, teach shooting sports to 4H Club members and most prominently serve in Wesson Volunteer Fire Department, which he has led as its chief since 2010.
Growing up in Dentville, Carraway worked, played and traveled to elementary and high school at Hazlehurst. He helped his family raise 60 head of cattle and tend what he recalls as “a big garden.” He built and mended fences, learned to weld and fix things, mowed grass, operated tractors and other farm equipment and worked on cars, including his prize 1963 four-door Biscayne, which he bought with money he earned driving a school bus in the ninth grade, checking cattle at the Mississippi Livestock Barn and cutting lumber at a family-owned saw mill.
Carraway graduated from Hazlehurst High School in 1981, where he played right guard in the tenth and eleventh grades for a struggling football team had not yet achieved the successes it has enjoyed in recent years. Over the next 15 years, he commuted regularly from Copiah County to the Louisiana coast to work for Noble Drilling in the offshore oil fields on derricks and motors and in the mud room as a roughneck, derrick hand and supply/storage yard manager.
After “meeting the right lady,” he says he quit commuting to the offshore oil fields, studied Industrial Mechanics and Maintenance Technology at Co-Lin from 1995 to 1997 and joined Georgia Gulf, now Axiall Corporation, at Gallman, where he has risen through the ranks to become Maintenance Supervisor over more than 26 years.
Carraway married his wife Tammy in 1994 – the same year he started his service at Wesson Volunteer Fire Department. They have three children – Samuel, 22, with the fire department at Purvis, Mississippi, Anna, 22, a nurse at the University of Florida and Joseph, 25, a diesel mechanic. Carraway has another son, Kenneth, 43, from a previous marriage, who works at Sanderson Farms in Copiah County.
In addition to a new family and work life, he became Wesson’s foremost volunteer.
In Dentville, when he was a youth, a kitchen fire – although fortunately extinguished safely before much damage any injuries – left its mark on Carraway, and he got his first taste of volunteer experience at a small fire department organized in the rural community in 1992. Two years later, he moved to the larger volunteer department in Wesson and earned his certification as a fire fighter in 1997. His volunteer life has continued to bloom.
In 2009, he became Assistant Scoutmaster at Wesson Troop 125 of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), then moving into the role of its Scoutmaster and helping with the Wesson Cub Scout program. As Scoutmaster of the Troop, over five years, he transformed it from an adult-led to scout led organization with a focus training and nurturing development of an Eagle Scout core membership. “I was a merit badge counselor, and taught scouts working towards various merit badges at spring and winter Adventure Camps that build their life-long outdoor skills and provide leadership experience,” Carraway says. After leaving Troop 125, he has continued his volunteer involvement with BSA as a Shooting Sports Instructor.
Beginning in August 2013, Carraway also joined Copiah County 4H Clubs as Field and Stream Shooting Sports Instructor tasked with teaching youth leadership skills and interaction with adults and other youth. He has coached 4H rifle, pistol and muzzleloader teams since 2018, bringing Copiah County competitors to national tournaments four times.
If folk associated with Scouting and 4H appreciate Carraway for what he has brought to their organizations as a volunteer, the wider community has been served by his more than 29 years helping to provide disaster and humanitarian relief as needs through Wesson Volunteer Fire Department, which he has directed as its Chief for 13 years.
“The job of a Volunteer Fire Chief brings many challenges, “ he says. “While we train the most to help others in their time of need, we also train to teach prevention. We are given the opportunity to meet many people of all walks of life, many turning into great friendships. We also like to interact with the community while teaching fire prevention, home safety and many other topics.”
Summarizing his satisfaction as a volunteer fire fighter that could apply as well to his other volunteer endeavors, Carraway recalls a recruiting ad once posted by a volunteer fire department. It highlighted what the volunteer would get from the experience:
“Fun, no pay and a cool hat.”
For that and working with his neighbors to make Wesson a better place to live, Ken Carraway has devoted the better part of the last 21 years.
What are your hobbies?
My volunteer activities, of course, are hobbies. I am also active at Sylvarena Baptist Church, serving as a Deacon and Sunday School teacher. As my children grew adults, approaching the age of weddings, I became a collector of quality cast iron ware, with the intention of giving it away as gifts. The collection, however, has grown beyond the supply required for gifts. It now includes some 70 to 80 hanging on wall and on display at home. I know the history of each item, the caster and its unique specialty. A cast iron good for baking cornbread, for example, may not serve you well if you are trying to fry an egg.
Are you a reader?
I read a lot about fire departments, fire fighting and fire safety; and get the latest how-to videos on fire equipment.
Do you follow movies or theater?
My wife says the best way to get me up and moving is to show a sentimental or romance video. On the other hand, I will quickly settle into an old adventure movie – Armageddon, Twister, Men in Black, Independence Day.
What would you do with the winnings if you won the lottery?
I would quit work so I could become a full-time volunteers doing anything to help the community.
How would you change the world?
The world, more than even, needs volunteers today. Voluntary organizations are struggling.