AUBURN — To say that Auburn firefighters will miss Evelyn Brown is to utter a gross understatement.

Starting shortly after 9/11, Brown brought the fire crews cookies she baked herself, to thank them for their service. But over ensuing years, the relationship developed into something that was much more than baked goods.

“She was our adopted mother,” Deputy Chief Tim Allen said. “And we were her adopted children. We loved her as much as she loved us.”

Evelyn Miles Brown, who would come to be known with affection as “The Cookie Lady,” died this week at the age of 84.

In 2002, Brown gave an interview to the Sun Journal in which she explained her motivations for taking cookies to the central fire station — and then to the substations — two times a week. At the time, the trauma of the 9/11 attacks was still fresh.

“I saw the firefighters go up the stairs into the fire,” Brown said of the nightmare in New York City. “Our Auburn guys do the same thing. I had to thank them. I had to do something.”

She did something, all right. Brown made chocolate chocolate-chip cookies or Toll House cookies with peanut butter chunks. She took requests and she baked in batches of four dozen to make sure there were enough to go around.

“When she comes in, it’s a bit of a free-for-all,” said Lt. Mike Minkowsky, now retired, at the time of the 2002 story. “Someone will say, ‘The Cookie Lady was here!’ and you better stand out of the way.”

So began the long relationship that would continue even after Brown could no longer bake cookies on her own; even after she could no longer drive herself to the station.

By 2002, the Auburn firefighters already cared very deeply for their Cookie Lady, who not only delivered treats hot out of the oven, but made the crews things such as jigsaw puzzles, which were framed and placed on the walls of the fire station.

For the first 10 years, Brown was living at Barker Mill Arms and driving to the station twice a week. Later, she moved to a residential care facility and could no longer do the baking.

“She didn’t have a kitchen anymore,” Allen said.

At some point, she lost the ability to drive, as well, and that might have been the end, if it had been just an ordinary relationship.

“The guys stayed close to her,” Allen said. “We all did.”

The firefighters made frequent stops at Brown’s new home, for starters. They’d pop their heads in and say hello as often as they could.

“She’d always get excited,” Allen said, “and come over to hug us.”

Brown was sharp. She knew the Fire Department staff perhaps better than most city leaders.

“She knew every firefighter by name,” Allen said. “Every new person that came along, she’d get to know them, too. We were her boys, as she used to say.”

It was, as Allen puts it, a two-way street. The firefighters adored her and always sought ways to show their appreciation as Brown showed her own.

In recent years, the firefighters got together to prepare a tribute. They took a fire helmet that was no longer in service and pimped it out in a variety of ways. They painted it up bright and snazzy. They pasted cookies on it, of course, because the cookie had become the symbol of this awesome friendship.

According to Allen, fire officials were working with Brown’s family on a service to memorialize their Cookie Lady. The helmet will be returned to the station, where it will be hung in the department museum.

“She was a wonderful lady,” firefighter David O’Connel said. “She was part of our family over here.”

That Brown would dedicate so much of her time to caring for the firefighters is no real shock. According to her obituary, she had at one time aspired to be a nurse. That didn’t pan out, “but life would give her six children,” according to the obituary, “who benefited from her tender, loving care.”

Or several dozen children, if you count the firefighters. And to Brown, they definitely counted.

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