By GREG FOX
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Dunkirk resident Kathy Collins fondly remembers "playing big shot" with her mother when she was little by sitting on a pair of wooden glider benches with her on their porch and forgetting all their cares in the world. For a relatively modest family, that was one of the highlights of Collins' time with her mother, who passed away in 2005.
OBSERVER Photos by Greg Fox
Dunkirk resident Kathy Collins donated two wooden glider benches to Bicentennial Park last year in memory of her mother, who passed away in 2005. She recently discovered one of those benches was vandalized and thrown into Crooked Brook, where it apparently washed away. Pictured is the second of Collins’ mother’s benches, which is currently chained to a tree until something more is done to secure it.
Now, however, one of those benches lies broken to pieces after unknown vandals recently destroyed it and threw it into Crooked Brook, where it apparently washed away. The benches were donated to Dunkirk's Bicentennial Park on Sixth Street last year in memory of Collins' mother, Cecelia Cooley.
"I always walk my dog in the evening and I always ... go in there and sit on those benches. It's like a personal way to unwind because I know those were my mom's," Collins said. "I went in there and one was missing. So, I was looking around and the wooden rungs ... were scattered on the ground down by the creek there. The main pieces were gone."
Collins said the night before she discovered the missing bench, a powerful storm went through the area. Because of that storm, Collins thinks the bench got washed away after it was thrown in the creek. She also said the nameplate on the second bench was gone when she discovered the missing first bench.
The OBSERVER contacted the Dunkirk Police Department regarding the case and was told the investigation is still ongoing.
"I don't know if it's even considered evidence, but I found some school notebooks that were left at the scene where the bench was sitting and there's a couple of names on the papers that were with the notebooks, so I (took) them to the police department to see if they knew anything or if it was just a coincidence," Collins said.
The OBSERVER also attempted to contact the Dunkirk City School District's Buildings and Grounds Department regarding what is being done to secure the second of Collins' benches, but phone calls were not immediately returned.
"I don't even know if we will leave the other bench in the park," Collins said. "The school ... was responsible for getting them secured to the ground so that they couldn't be moved, but somebody dropped the ball and that didn't happen. I'll leave the other one there if I see efforts to secure it."
Dunkirk resident Harriet "Skeeter" Tower has recently taken the lead in beautifying Bicentennial Park, among other areas in the city. She said the destruction of the park bench was "such a tragedy."
"This is the first vandalism we are aware of in the three years we have been working on the park, aside from a tulip tree being destroyed," Tower wrote to the OBSERVER. "We have now resorted to chaining the bench to a tree until they can be secured better by school grounds personnel who had agreed to do this earlier."
"People put hundreds of hours into making that a pretty place," Tower said in a phone interview. "I'm just hoping the young people will feel like that's a place they have some ownership in and will help take care of it. It is school property and we hope neighbors and residents will make positive use of it and keep an eye out for it and look out for it."
While Collins said she understands the bench is not a person or something that should take precedence in the police department's cases, but she did want to relay a message to the people who destroyed her mother's bench.
"They should know what damage they did to me in disrespecting such a piece of property that meant so much to me and that we put there for everyone to enjoy. They wouldn't want a memory of theirs done wrong like that. They need to know they hurt someone," she said. "I don't know if it's still just not a priority (for the police) ... but to have people ruin those kinds of things and have no respect for (Skeeter's beautification of the city) is disheartening. I've lived in Dunkirk my whole life and it really makes me angry to see things like that. Those benches did not have a monetary value to me; they were priceless in my mind."
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