With donations from numerous individuals and businesses and the commitment of time from police, firefighters and public works crews, Jody King is confident that a grassy area in Apponaug will be transformed into the state’s first Station Nightclub Fire Memorial in time for dedication on Oct. 20.
King, who lost his brother Tracy in the fire that killed 100 on Feb. 20, 2003, launched an effort to build a memorial to the Warwick victims more than three years ago. With the 10th anniversary of the fire approaching, the effort has been stepped up and people from across the city and state have come forward to assist.
Yesterday, ground was broken for the memorial consisting of a circular brick plaza surrounded by plantings and focused on a tablet with the names and pictures of Warwick victims of the fire. Ten Warwick residents, more than any other single community, lost their lives in the tragedy. The names of all 100 victims will be embossed in bricks edging the plaza.
As the sun broke through clearing clouds, families of victims, officials and those who have worked to make the memorial possible gathered at the site, which once featured a memorial to Warwick firefighters. That memorial was relocated when Fire Department headquarters opened in a new building across the street on Veterans Memorial Drive.
“It is my hope that this memorial helps bring peace to us all as we honor those who are no longer with us and attempt to heal the pain caused by the separation from those we loved,” King said. King asked those present to join hands as a team.
Referring to criticism of satellite memorials made earlier this week by David Kane, the father of the youngest victim, Nicholas O’Neill, King said he “has a dream that we would all work together, as a team, as one family to acquire the land at the Station.”
Kane reasoned efforts should be directed at building a memorial at the site of the Station Nightclub on Cowesett Road in West Warwick.
King is the driving force behind the Warwick memorial, a fact recognized by many of those in attendance.
“This would not have been possible without Jody’s tireless work and determination to make this memorial a reality, or without the generous financial donations from people throughout the state who have supported the project,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said.
One of those nodding in agreement was architect Harvey Wagner. Wagner said King contacted him about five years ago.
When they met for the first time, King laid out the photographs of the 10 Warwick victims and then his vision to remember them.
Wagner, who is donating his services, said he knew he wanted to help. Not only did he design the memorial, but he was directing a Department of Public Works crew as they started site preparations immediately following the groundbreaking.
Over the course of the next four weeks, firefighters who built the fire memorial will assist with this memorial. Volunteer help will also be coming from police and other city workers. To date, King has raised $10,000 in donations and another $10,000 in material donations and in-kind gifts. Donations are flowing into a non-profit tax exempt organization, the Warwick Station Nightclub Memorial Foundation.
Over the hum of traffic, a somber feeling settled over yesterday’s groundbreaking.
“Time has gone on, days and years have gone by, but our hearts are heavy still, for we miss our loved ones,” Father Robert Marciano said in an opening prayer.
“As we dedicate this spot, and fulfill our pledge to never forget them, we remember each one of them and with their spirit still with us, we ask your strength in our weakness so that we can face tomorrow with hope in our hearts and peace in our lives,” he said.
In a closing prayer, Rabbi Peter Stein of Temple Sinai talked of the Hebrew word “minyah.” He said that the word refers to the minimum of 10 to assemble for prayer services and how those 10 take responsibility for themselves and each other. He noted that not only are there 10 victims from Warwick, but also that 10 times that number died. His point is that this first memorial is taking the responsibility for the community.
King was undaunted yesterday by the tight deadline he has set to complete the memorial, or some of the controversy this first memorial has raised.
Asked after the ceremony why he picked Warwick, King said, “My family is still here in Warwick. It’s my town; that’s why it is here.”