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Community comes together for 'Big Mike'

Community comes together for 'Big Mike'

Michael McGrail Jr. said Sunday he and his younger brother Christopher consider themselves lucky.
Community comes together for 'Big Mike'
Barbara Manchester of Bleecker looks over the 100 raffle tickets she purchased during a fundraiser for Mike McGrail and his family at the Concordia Club in Gloversville Sunday afternoon.
Photographer: Barry Sloan

Michael McGrail Jr. said Sunday he and his younger brother Christopher consider themselves lucky.

Their parents, who were nearly killed in an explosion that destroyed their Elmwood Avenue home last month, are alive — and hundreds of community members showed up Sunday to raise money for the family and show their support.

“My parents are alive. Everything else is just material,” said Christopher McGrail, 21. “And the way the community has stepped up has made me feel like everything is going to be OK.”

Mike “Big Mike” McGrail and his wife Debbie were investigating a propane leak in their home’s basement when the explosion occurred.

Michael McGrail Jr., 24, said he believes it was an act of God that left him unharmed in the blast. He was sitting in his room when the house exploded.

“It was like all black and chaos around me and then everything fell in,” he said.

Michael McGrail Jr. said everything else is mixed up in a blur of adrenaline. He said he remembers looking for his parents, who were trapped in the rubble. McGrail said he started throwing cinder blocks and rubble out of the way to reach his mother who he pulled out first. His father was pulled out as the house became engulfed in flames.

The McGrails lost nearly all their possessions in the accident, but Michael McGrail Jr. said there isn’t anything he’d want back.

“If you asked me a year ago, I’m sure there would be things I’d say I would have missed. But after you go through something like this, you realize that there are more important things,” McGrail said.

Friends claim the event was the largest benefit the community has seen.

“I expected a lot of people, but I never expected this,” said Sandi Savage, one of the event’s organizers, about the roughly 1,000 people snaking their way through the hall of the Concordia Club.

Ray Clemens of Gloversville attributed the McGrails’ popularity to the fact that the family owns Big Mike’s Restaurant on North Pine Street in Johnstown. Clemens said he has known Michael McGrail since he opened his first fast-food operation out of a trailer.

“I used to stop there every morning on my way to work,” he said.

Family and friends are working to keep Big Mike’s restaurant open while the couple recovers.

The brothers said their parents are undergoing physical therapy and are expected to be discharged from the hospital by Thanksgiving. Michael McGrail suffered extensive second-degree burns on his arms, legs and face. Debbie McGrail was in similar condition. They have been moved into the same room at the Upstate Medical University Hospital in Syracuse.

“Now they’re pushing each other. My mom’s like ‘C’mon Mike,’ ” Christopher McGrail said.

“He’s probably flirting with all the nurses, so your mom must love that,” said family friend George Bevinton jokingly.

The brothers are staying at their aunt’s house in Gloversville, and said they will probably continue to stay with family and friends and possibly rent a place until the family can rebuild.

“My dad has his heart set on rebuilding,” Christopher McGrail said.

The family built the home 10 years ago from the ground up.

“It was his dream home,” Michael McGrail said.

Strangers continued to approach the McGrails offering their support and sympathy throughout the afternoon. Many of them offered amusing stories about their parents.

Ricki Duross of Gloversville told the boys a story about partying with their father when he worked at New York Lunch 30 years ago.

“Everyone here is from the heart,” Duross said.

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