A memorial brought together by `family'

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It’s taken more than 14 years to complete a lasting memorial to the 100 who lost their lives in The Station nightclub fire on Feb. 20, 2003 in the worst tragedy in Rhode Island history and the fourth deadliest fire in the country.

Some would say that’s too long.

Indeed, it has not been easy. While sincere, early fundraising efforts sputtered with the immediate concerns of broken families; the healing of survivors and the consoling of those who lost friends and family taking priority, as they should. That was followed by the investigation, the lawsuits and the criminal charges.

Beside, where would a memorial go?

There seemed only one place to remember the 100 although a memorial was built in Warwick, a community that lost 10 to the fire. When Ray Villanova, owner of the site, gave the property to the Station Memorial Foundation in 2012, the door opened to build a place to remember and to reflect. But getting from that dream to reality was a giant step and one that thousands of Rhode Islanders made possible

The vision was for an enduring memorial, not a temporary remembrance that like some historical cemetery would become neglected, choked with vegetation and tucked away from public view. Nor was the vision of a ground of makeshift altars festooned with stuffed animals and belongings, which hold great personal meaning, but with time become shabby tributes. It was not becoming of sacred ground.

Yet with time, the viability of building a memorial seemed to grow more and more remote. Would the site contain nothing more than a marker, perhaps like the sidewalk bronze plaque of the Cocoanut Grove fire of Nov. 29, 1942, where 492 people lost their lives or the marker of the circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut, of July 6, 1944 where 167 died?

It looked like that could happen here.

Station Fire survivor Gina Russo who lost her fiancé to the fire vowed not to let that happen. So did Robin Petrarca, Jody King and other members of her board although, more than once, they heard raising $2 million would never happen. What the naysayers failed to recognize is that this is Rhode Island.

That point was made more than once at Sunday’s dedication starting with former Governor Donald Carcieri, who with Russo co-chaired the campaign that raised more than $1.4 million in pledges and cash contributions and another $600,000 in material and labor donations. There were major gifts from Centreville Bank, Washington Trust and foundations, but, by no means was this effort carried by a few. The faith community rallied by the Rev. Donald Anderson executive minister of the Rhode Island Council of Churches turned to their congregations who contributed generously. In under two weeks Job Lot shoppers gave $47,500. Many others wrote out personal checks.

The story that Rhode Island is a neighborhood and that we are family resonated Sunday.

It was a family that came together Sunday. People bowed their heads in prayer, hugged one another, remembered the night of the fire and applauded the first responders and medical staffs that treated the injured. Time cannot erase the bonds of The Station Fire, nor, thanks to so many, will it let us forget the 100 who lost their lives.

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