“Cape Cod is the only place I want to be. I don’t want to go over the bridge. Everything that I need and want is here. I’m lucky to have my family all on the Cape. I have no reason to go over the bridge. Everything. Sand sea, dunes. My husband’s ashes are buried out in the dunes, I intend to be there too.”
Avis Kaeselau is proud of her Cape Cod roots. She was born and raised in the East End of Provincetown. The males in the family were carpenters and wood workers. Her father built the home she grew up in. The mother acted as a stay at home mom, however had a knack for cooking, particularly chowder. Avis grew up excelling in school. She lived in a very traditional household where dating was not allowed until the age of 18 for women. Avis is musically inclined and picked up the violin when she was young, but growing up she learned that she had a nurturing side at a very young age.
“The thing I loved growing up was caring for my dolls and they were all in a hospital. They were all sick and I took care of them and then my stuffed animals were the same way. I am a caregiver. From day one.”
As life went on, eventually she moved to Brewster. Avis attempted to join the rescue squads on the Outer Cape at the time, but was not allowed because of her sex. Her brother was the Chief of the Fire Department in Provincetown, yet this did not help her case. The department was afraid that females would faint at any sign of bodily fluids or human duress. They forgot that women bore and cared for children. This responsibility is surrounded with bodily functions right from birth. Brewster was the only department that would accept females. The reasoning? They couldn’t find enough people to fill the squad. Being accepted on the Brewster squad was about to bring exciting things to her life though.
“I was happy. It was a scoop and run operations at that time. It changed quickly to a new course. A pilot program on the Cape called EMT started. We had the pilot program and I was in the first class. I became the first female EMT in the state. I also became the first female to receive the EMT of the year award for the state. Not just little old Cape Cod. That was a big thing. This was big deal. They didn’t want women. The guys on the rescue squad at first were like ‘you pick up your end of the stretcher. You want to be on rescue, you have to do your thing.’ The stretcher alone weighed 80lbs let alone the person on it. It was a struggle. These weren’t that kind that lifted up as you went. You had to lift against gravity into the truck. I soon became first female CPR Instructor on the Cape. This was another pilot program on the Cape. I went further and became an instructor/trainer. I then became the affiliate faculty in the country. You made decisions. I was also the emergency cardiac care CPR committee chairman. I trained as well was on rescue duty all the time, with 4 kids, 3 cats 2 dogs and a skunk and a husband.” (Yes, the skunk was a family pet at the time. Peppy)
The importance of these programs played a critical role in the development of the EMT programs around the country. In the past a patient or an emergency victim might have been declared dead without going through proper procedures and this did not sit well with Avis. There was an old boy network inside of the departments with a sense of privilege. Taking Avis’ class assured that this network was going to be forced to learn new techniques
"Bull Shit. It wasn’t going to be that way. They had to go through everything. I would take the kids leftovers from dinner that they didn’t eat with a little oatmeal and combine it to stick Annie's (CPR dummy) head in it. They would come in and say, I’m not doing that. I would say ok no card, next.”
The story gets better. As CPR became more and more popular, towns were requesting training for the service so that their departments could receive certification. It just so happens that her brother requested training also.
“My brother was the chief in Provincetown. They admitted that they had to take CPR because it was now mandatory. I worked for the Heart Association. I did all of their trainings, both CPR and Emergency care. He wrote to the heart association and asked for the best CPR instructor to come down and train them. They wanted the very best. They wrote a letter back saying that they are sending you the very best. And it was me of course. My brother must have dropped his drawers. And they all did when I walked in. It was kind of funny and I loved every minute of it. I’ll never forget that story as long as I live. I trained the Provincetown rescue in the beginning for CPR.”
It would be safe to say that Avis at some point in her career trained nearly everyone with CPR certification on the Cape at some point. She is recognized and praised on the streets or given thanks for helping to save a life through training or over the phone. This is one person who can stand up and say they helped a community strive for betterment through healthcare and know that their actions had numerous positive effects throughout the Cape. And she is still teaching. She taught a senior class on how to save toddlers.
“You don't die with your knowledge and they suck it out of you. It's there and you should share it. Here is what I have. When I learn something or figure it out, creatively, I have to share it. It's stupid to hang onto it. You have to put out there. If you don't like it than don't but if you do great.”
In promoting more societal changes, Avis also fought for the schools on Cape to become Handicap friendly. Her youngest child suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis from an extremely young age. The schools were not capable of managing students with physical ailments and change was needed. So Avis again stood up and acted until the schools made the changes needed to provide the necessary items for children with physical ailments. This included ramps and other necessities.
When her husband passed away, Avis felt a new type of loneliness. Life was going to be different and she knew herself enough, that she needed to be surrounded by others. So after attempting a widows group, she took the initiative and started her own group.
I started a group called common ground. When my husband died I was very alone and lonely, so I thought there must be somebody, somewhere that feels like I do. I don’t want to do to the movies alone. I don’t want to go out to eat alone. From that moment I started my own group. Common Ground. I posted flyers everywhere I could think of. At the peak of the group in peak season I had 163 folks and they were from all over. We went out dancing. We went out to eat. We had parties. Many of which were at my house and in my yard. It was a wonderful group because I got 3 weddings and 2 engagements out of it. It brought people together.
And as to why she resides on the Cape?
“Cape Cod is the only place I want to be. I don’t want to go over the bridge. Everything that I need and want is here. I’m lucky to have my family all on the Cape. I have no reason to go over the bridge. Everything. Sand sea, dunes. My husband’s ashed are buried out in the dunes, I intend to be there too.”
Cape Cod is her home. As the matriarch, she feels it is her duty to keep the family as close together as possible. Passing traditions along to the future generations is at the top of her lists. Those traditions do continue in the strong Nordic names the entire family has, and their personalities stand behind these names. She has a clan of grandchildren that she enjoys. Like her group Common Ground, she enjoys large family gatherings in her home. The louder, the better. Her pride in Cape Cod grows through the many roots in Provincetown. So deep, that her great aunt is one of the beautiful portraits installed on the Fisherman’s Wharf boat house at the end of the pier.