A dream to honor fire victims takes shape
I looked at my watch – 9:15 a.m.
Jody would still be on the water, but I would call anyway.
On the fourth ring he answered. I strained to hear above the splash of waves against the skiff or maybe the wind. My guess was he was north of Warwick Neck, maybe not far from the Aldrich mansion and Rocky Point. His voice was distant.
“You still out there?”
“Coming in. Should be at the site in another hour.”
I detected the excitement in his voice, especially with the next bit of news.
“They could be putting in the first bricks this afternoon.”
That was news. According to Jody’s calculations, the project was ahead of schedule by eight days.
Jody King, whose brother, Tracy, died in The Station Nightclub fire, has talked about building a memorial to remember the 10 Warwick victims for years. It always seemed like one of those visions that had a better chance of living in concept than becoming reality. That was up until early this summer.
I think it was in early July when Jody strode into the office with a set of architect’s drawings and a smile that speaks of his optimism. As he unrolled them, he spoke of his intention to have the memorial completed by the 10th anniversary of the fire on Feb. 20.
That seemed ambitious. Yes, he had drawings and Mayor Scott Avedisian agreed to let Jody use the site of the former firefighter memorial behind the City Hall Annex, but it seemed Jody still had a long way to go, and not a lot of time to get there.
There was much to be done. He needed to incorporate the organization as a non-profit. He needed a board of directors. He needed to raise funds and donations of materials, but before that, he needed consensus from the families of the victims. In short, he needed a team.
As he talked, more details came to light. He had raised about $4,000 in donations and was working with Anthony Sciolto Jr. of Sciolto & Son on a design for a tablet that would contain the names and etchings of the victims. The tablet would serve as the focal point of the memorial, a circular brick plaza with six benches, two flagpoles, lighting and plantings.
The drawings by architect Harvey Wagner brought everything together. It illustrated not only Jody’s dream, but that he was building a team and the work had started. I was to learn he recruited Harvey the way he brought others into the project, with enthusiasm and his belief that it was time for a memorial.
Before I knew Jody, I knew his late brother. Tracy worked for the Department of Public Works. He had an unusual gift. Tracy could balance items of great length and weight on his chin and defy gravity and do what seemed impossible. As I recall, the first time I saw him use his skill, he balanced a 10-foot ladder. Later, it was a canoe that stood on end, as if suspended from an invisible line. It got him in local and national media.
He was also a bouncer at The Station Nightclub as Jody was the quahogging brother who became a spokesman for shellfishermen.
If there was a project affecting the industry, such as dredging of the Providence River channel or the wastewater system to halt untreated sewerage into the bay, we could always count on Jody for the perspective of those who earned their living on the bay.
Harvey was recruited out of the yellow pages. Jody wanted a Warwick architect, found Harvey’s name and went to see him. Harvey was aboard instantly.
As the summer progressed, Jody stopped by to report. Attorney Seth Adam Perlmutter pursued Internal Revenue Service designation as a non-profit. Jody brought details of the project. He brought in bricks of different colors and sizes, seeking comment. With tenacity, he followed every lead for donations of money, material and time. The fund grew, and so did the stockpile of materials and list of volunteers.
It wasn’t without problems. From the start, the mother of one of the victims felt it was inappropriate to single out the Warwick 10 if the 90 others were not recognized. She had a point, and Jody incorporated all the names into the memorial. They will be on bricks circling the plaza. That wasn’t enough, so the tablet will have the names and pictures of nine victims and a heart in place for the 10th.
“I respect that,” Jody said when I asked him what he thought. “The loss means different things to each of us.”
Yet, should the family have second thoughts, the name can be added to the stone – Jody thought of that, too.
Then there was the matter of the angel. The original design for the tablet included an outline of an angel in the background to the names. When the city looked at this, the question of whether this was a religious statement arose. Might the memorial become as controversial as the prayer at Cranston West or the cross at the World War II monument in Woonsocket?
The Norwegian spruce was another issue. Under the original plan, the tree comes down. Who planted the tree and did its presence bear some significance? No one seemed to know, but cutting down such a large tree would surely evoke criticism.
Meetings with the planning department and the city solicitor were held. The orientation was shifted to save the tree and to conform to plans for the Apponaug bypass. Throughout, Jody kept his sights on the goal of a memorial. The issues would not stop him.
On Friday morning, I was in awe at the progress that had been made. Scott Small, who has been coordinating the work, was working a backhoe to level the plaza for the bricks. The cement walks and stairs, done by Hazard Concrete, gave a good outline of what the completed memorial would look like.
Jody arrived with his newest companion, Nosmo, a German Sheppard puppy that is quickly becoming a water dog. She accompanies him shellfishing. He conferred with Harvey and Scott. He marveled at the progress made but didn’t linger.
“I’ve got work to do. I’ve got to find plantings,” he said.
Later that afternoon the brickwork started and it didn’t stop for yesterday’s holiday. Clay’s Construction and a few friends were volunteering to set the bricks.
“It’s so refreshing to see people coming together and just giving,” said Harvey.
Harvey was among the givers, too. He gave his time and came with plenty of coffee and donuts for the volunteers.
Jody has set in motion something that won’t stop.
Dedication of the memorial is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20.
It’s going to happen.