Ensuring their memory lives on
Sunday's snow, wind and cold couldn't keep family, friends and survivors from gathering to observe the 10th anniversary of the Station Nightclub fire. One of the worst fires in the country's history, it took the lives of 100 and injured nearly 200 more when pyrotechnics ignited flammable foam on the ceiling of the club during a Great White performance on Feb. 20, 2003.
Among the tears and the sadness, remembering and honoring lost loved ones, those that braved the elements Sunday had reason to celebrate, as not only the plans for a permanent and lasting memorial on the site of the former club were revealed, but ground was also broken.
The service began with an invocation by Rev. Marie Carpenter, director of Eldercare Ministries, American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island, and was followed by remarks from Governor Lincoln Chafee, who said, "It's up to us, the living, to ensure your loved ones live on."
Following Chafee's remarks, Joe Silva performed a song he wrote about the tragic event called "97 Angels."
Next to speak was Dr. David Harrington, director of the Burn Center at Rhode Island Hospital, who worked on many of the victims of the fire.
"We live our lives in a community that we think we know but don't realize it's a bigger community," he said. "I didn't know anyone who was involved in the Station fire before it happened, but now they are all linked to me."
Harrington said the patients he and his staff worked on and the families they talked with inspired them.
Former Governor Donald Carcieri, who was governor at the time the fire occurred, was on hand to offer his thoughts. He said the pain is as vivid today as it was 10 years ago, and also thanked first responders for their heroism.
"The first responders had tremendous caring for what happened here; all the medical staff - the Shriners [Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston] hadn't taken adults before, but they responded to their needs - it was more than just a job for them," he said. "The whole state was hurting for everyone that was affected. In a time of our state's worst tragedy, it was our people's finest hour."
Sarah Mancini, the mother of Keith Mancinci, who was the bassist for one of the bands opening up for Great White that night, spoke about her son.
"I come here often because I believe Keith's spirit is here, along with the other 99 that perished," she said.
Mancini said she experienced every emotion possible before realizing she couldn't live with all that bitterness and something changed. She said she remembered Gov. Carcieri's message about being given a second chance and to do something with it.
"That's stayed with me all these years," she said. "I want to turn today into a day of hope and I will keep the survivors in my prayers."
It wasn't only parents that spoke about lost children, as Angela Bogart talked about what kind of woman her mother, Jude Henault, was.
"When she died, I was just entering young adulthood at the age of 19 and learning to appreciate who she was as a mother," she said. "I had just two years to know and understand her as a mother and a friend, but I thank God for that."
Bogart said at the age of 17, she often thought she knew everything and would fight back against her mother, but that all changed when she told her mother that her best friend had committed suicide.
"She became my best friend after that," Bogart said. "I realized I've gotten to know her better this past decade than the 19 years I had with her. She will always live in me and though I wish she were here, I know she can guide me even better now."
After Bogart's words about her mother, another musical performance took place. Human Clay sang "My Sacrifice," which SFMF President Gina Russo said has become the anthem for their organization.
Jessica Garvey, secretary of the SFMF, said her first time on the property was the Sunday after the fire when she was bused over from the Crowne Plaza to leave a picture of her sister, Dina DeMaio, along with roses, as part of a makeshift memorial that was forming.
"As the list of the missing became the list of those that died, more and more people visited and left mementoes for loved ones," she said. "Each spring, there was pruning, mowing and cleaning to be done, but the property now belongs to us."
Russo said she wanted to thank Raymond Villanova and his family, who owned the property where the club once stood, for trusting the SFMF to take care of it.
"It's been an amazing honor to work with you these past years on the Board," Garvey said, addressing Gina and other SFMF members. "I thought this day would never come, but today I can say our dream became a reality and we can present the design of the Station Fire Memorial Park.
Tom Viall, member of the SFMF memorial design team, detailed the many aspects that the Station Fire Memorial Park will feature, including an Aeolian wind harp above the entrance gate, a stone memorial plaque commemorating the date and time of the fire, memorial gardens; individual monuments and a commemorative walkway paved with bricks purchased by friends, families and loved-ones to support the construction costs of the memorial. There will be a gathering court at the center of the site to bring visitors together or to accommodate food service or open space for special events.
Viall said the Aeolian Harp above the entrance gate will be visible from Cowesett Avenue and will contain strings representing each victim of the fire.
Once visitors pass through the entrance gate, they can choose one of three paths that lead up to a pavilion set above 12 Memorial Gardens celebrating the lives of those lost. Each garden will contain individual memorials to the 100 victims, as well as a park bench for those who wish to sit and reflect.
"Each element of this design has been carefully planned to honor the spirit of those who have been lost and the hopes and prayers of those who will never forget," he said.
The park will be fully ADA compliant and accessible to all visitors.
While there were often questions of when and if the memorial would ever get built, Viall said his team didn't always have an answer for when, but the answer to if was "absolutely."
"These are people who don't give up or lose hope that they would build this memorial, and we're honored to be part of that dream," he said.
Rev. Dr. Donald Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, gave the reflection and spoke about how the tragedy unified the state.
"When we come, we'll remember the 100 because they will never be forgotten, but another number comes to mind, which is one," he said. "Ten years ago, we weren't Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Jews … we were Rhode Island and I want you to remember that no matter what others say to divide us, we are one."
After the reflection, the names of the 100 victims were read aloud followed by 100 seconds of silence.
One more song was performed, "Sometimes" by Lisa Markovich and Michael Kaczmarczyk, before SFMF members broke ground on the site by shoveling small piles of dirt.
Jody King, whose brother Tracy was lost in the fire, is glad the memorial is finally coming to fruition.
"This is a way of making people never forget because we did forget and the tragedy in Brazil just happened," he said. "The word needs to get out; this needs to be remembered and never forgotten."
SFMF is already taking requests for commemorative bricks. Information can be found on the SFMF website at www.stationfirememorialfoundation.org, or on the group's Facebook page.