AMSTERDAM -- Everyone leaves their mark on this world, was the thought that occurred to Janet Steenburg when she was asked for ideas of what should be included in a permanent memorial to the 20 victims of the Oct. 6 Schoharie crash.
Steenburg's sons Axel J. Steenburg and Richard Steenburg Jr. and Axel's wife Amy (King) Steenburg were among the victims.
"They were here. Everybody leaves an imprint on something, whether at your house, or your job, or your car. Everybody leaves some kind of imprint," she said. "They left an imprint in their community, their jobs, their families, just about everything they touched, their brotherhood at the gym with the weightlifters, all of them touched so many lives in so many ways, and they all came from different backgrounds, and yet they were all best friends."
Janet's sons were among the 17 passengers in a stretch SUV limo traveling from Amsterdam to Cooperstown for a birthday party when the crash occurred. The limo driver came down the long Route 30 hill, passed a stop sign at high speed, crossed Route 30A, went off the road and through a parking lot before crashing into a ravine. All 17 passengers were killed, as were the driver and two pedestrians in the Apple Barrel Country Store parking lot.
Steenburg came up with the idea of having concrete circles with shoe imprints from the victims included as one of the elements in the permanent memorial to be built at the site of the crash, next to the Apple Barrel in Schoharie, at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A.
The design for the memorial was unveiled Saturday at the Reflections Memorial Foundation fundraising event at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam, which was the hometown of many of the victims of the crash.
The memorial will feature a cement arch shaped pathway on the ground, meant to symbolize the Iroquois concept of the Skydome. Within the pathway there will be a tree with flowers around it enclosed with bricks commemorating the first responders who dealt with the crash. Also within the enclosure will be a memorial stone with the names of the victims, and 20 cement circles, 19 of which will feature imprints of shoes worn by the passengers of the limo and the two bystanders, and their names. One cement circle will be left without an imprint to honor all of the other people affected by the crash.
Jessica Loden Kirby, president of the Reflections Memorial Foundation board, said the memorial will feature a flowering tree, stone benches around the site for quiet contemplation, and this quote provided by Steenburg: "You left your footprint on the Earth as a reminder you were here, we know you walk together and are forever near."
Kirby said the foundation was formed by her family, which owns the Apple Barrel Country Store, and includes board members John Gray, WTEN anchor and writer, Lesley Lanzi, chief investment officer at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and Lois Goblet, owner of Hessian Hill Farm in Schoharie, among others. Kirby said her family knew there needed to be a permanent memorial in the first few days after the accident.
Relatives and friends look at a mural on the trunk of a car memorializing the limo crash victims at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam, Photo by Peter Barber/Gazette Photographer
"I was there the day of the crash," she said. "It was the worse thing I've ever seen. I volunteered for ambulance services in the past, and I've seen horrible things, but this was something I'll never, never forget."
Kirby said her family has donated the land, approximately one third of an acre, for the site of the memorial and a parking lot area for it.
To build the memorial, and to establish the funds needed to maintain it, Kirby said the foundation needs $250,000. So far, they've raised $32,000, not including the money raised Saturday. Kirby said the goal is to build the memorial by Oct. 6 in time for the one-year anniversary. She said many businesses have offered to donate materials and time for the construction, which should help with the short turnaround.
Goblet and Lanzi helped organize the fundraiser Saturday, which included music from Steve Cowles and Greg Aidala, a silent auction, John Gray acting as master of ceremonies, and food from vendors like Lanzi’s On The Lake, Rolling Hills Country Club, DomAdi’s Deli, Nicolino’s Restaurant, Bull’s Head Inn, Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe, Schoharie Valley Farms, ice cream from Stewart’s Shops, fudge from Under the Nose. There were also drinks from a variety of vendors such as Deathwish Coffee, Green Wolf Brewing Co., Hummingbird Hills Winery, Ommegang brewery, Middleburgh Winery, and Heldeberg Meadery.
Goblet and Lanzi said they are professional fundraisers and Saturday's event, which had over 200 people in attendance, was as much about "friendraising" as raising money. They said they are confident they will get the donations needed for the permanent memorial.
"I'm very close with the Loden family, and because of my not-for-profit background, I knew that when something like this happens, everybody wants to do something, and you want the giving to have a lot of integrity," Goblet said. "You want the givers and the families to know that the donations are going to what they want it to go to, so one of the first calls I made was to Lesley Lanzi.
Goblet and Lanzi said Reflections Memorial Foundation was able to create its 501c3 non-profit corporation quickly, with donated legal help, and put up its website reflectionsmemorialfoundation.org with help from their web designer Mohamed Baligh.
"We're going to be reaching out to some of the larger corporate donors that we know to make this memorial a reality," Lanzi said.
A Pat Cushing Memorial Softball Tournament was also held Saturday at Nott Road Park in Guilderland. The event included the unveiling of a memorial to Cushing's baseball career. Organizers said all proceeds from the tournament will be donated in Pat’s name to the Youth Sports Program in his hometown of Amsterdam.
At the Riverlink Park fundraiser, during a short speech, John Gray said people die twice, once when they draw their last breaths and then again if people stop remembering them.
"In the case of these victims, we will never forget them. We will never stop speaking their names, and remembering their wonderful lives and the impact they had on all of us," he said.
Gray read the names of all of the people killed during the crash, including: Axel J. Steenburg, 29, of Amsterdam; Richard M. Steenburg, 34, of Johnstown; Amy L. Steenburg, 29, of Amsterdam; Allison King, 31, of Ballston Spa; Mary E. Dyson, 33, of Watertown; Robert J. Dyson, 34, of Watertown; Abigail M. Jackson, 34, of Amsterdam; Matthew W. Coons, 27, of Johnstown; Savannah D. Bursese, 24, of Johnstown; Patrick K. Cushing, 31, of Halfmoon; Amanda D. Halse, 26, of Halfmoon; Erin R. McGowan, 34, of Amsterdam; Shane T. McGowan, 30, of Amsterdam; Amanda Rivenberg, 29, of Colonie;
Adam G. Jackson, 34, of Amsterdam; Rachael K. Cavosie, 30, of Waterford; Michael C. Ukaj, 33, of Johnstown; Scott T. Lisinicchia, 53, of Lake George; Brian Hough, 46, of Moravia, Cayuga County and James Schnurr, 70, of Kerhonkson, Ulster County.
Jill Perez, mother of Matthew Coons, said the family members of the victims have been astounded by the permanent memorial efforts from the Lodens and others.
"We were so touched for them to build a memorial for our children, and then for them to say, 'What would you like to see?'" Perez said. "We were speechless. It was very, very heart touching. It's been seven months, which you would think would be a pretty long amount of time, but seven months was like yesterday. Some mornings, I get up and I eat breakfast and I go to work, and I'm OK. Other mornings I wake up, and I think it was a dream, and I tell myself it's reality, and my heart breaks and I cry all over again."
Perez said the families of the victims have come together to comfort each other, and to push the state Legislature to reform stretch limo law for more safety.
Janet Steenburg unveiled another memorial to the victims Saturday, a painted mural on a 1971 Chevelle by Barney's Sign Co., based on an owl tattoo that had been on Axel's chest.
"We went with a snow owl, with the eyes from Axel's chest tattoo into the owl, then we made the wings a little longer so they're carrying everybody," she said "There's four of them on the back and the rest on the wings. It's something for the families. We had stickers made up for just the immediate family and friends, so it's not something you're going to see on everybody's car."
Donations may also be mailed to the Reflections Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 488, Schoharie, NY, 12157. There is also a website, reflectionsmemorialfoundation.org, and a Facebook page.