Thoughts of Remembrance of Bat McGrath – By Gary Mervis
I really didn’t know Bat until some of our volunteers had an idea to have a concert featuring some music artists who got their start here in Upstate New York. Bat was one of the first people who was asked and agreed to do it. Unfortunately, the concert never happened because of the flooding that had occurred down at camp, resulting in over a half of a million dollars in damages.
Later on, when Bat traveled from his home in Nashville to visit this area, he decided to visit camp and see it for himself. He said that when he was going back home, he had the desire to write a song about Camp Good Days. One day, my assistant told me that she had received an email from Bat along with a song that he had written about camp. It was difficult for me to hear it and understand it, so I had my assistant email him back and ask if he could send it to me on a CD. Bat went out, rented a studio and recorded the song so that I could have a CD version of it. When I listened to it, I fell in love with it, and I shared it with my staff who also fell in love with it. So, I invited Bat when he came back the next summer to actually come to camp and see camp in session and play his song, which he did with his wife. While he was at camp, he said it would be great if we could put a video with the music so that I or my staff could use it when we made presentations about Camp Good Days. So, Bat made some calls to his friends and he got someone who would be able to create a video for the song.
A few days before Christmas that year, I got a call from the person who put the video together asking if I could come out to their office and see the finished product. And I have to admit, I was a little taken aback not only because the video was so well done and so beautiful, but because, unbeknownst to me, they had slipped in a few videos of Teddi and I. I have to say, if I have used that video once, I have used it 100 times and every time I do, I feel so fortunate that Bat came into my life.
Like many of you, I am sure; I was shocked to learn that he had been diagnosed with cancer last year. And when I had heard that he was going to play some of his music at Lovin’ Cup, I called one of the owners, Leslie Zinc, to ask if she could get me into the sold out show, and she made sure that Wendy and I had seats at his last concert. It was emotional to see him because he had lost probably 40 pounds and he was weak, but the showman that he was, he stood and performed for the whole concert, and then he even had CDs available that he sat down to sign for his fans. Every time I see that beautiful video, I will think of him.
I wanted to write this blog because I think it is important that we recognize these two very special people. In Bat’s case, we are going to dedicate the music hut at camp to him. And then for Laurie, we will do a special activity at camp in her honor next summer.
Thoughts of Remembrance of our Daughter, Sister, Friend, and Colleague, Alissa Mari Cole
Thank you for joining us here today to honor Alissa. Alissa loved the life she lived here at home in Rochester and in Fredonia. She was able to touch many lives in many different ways, in such a short amount of time. We all cherish these precious memories of every moment spent in her presence.
Alissa loved and cherished her family more than anything, especially her little “big” brother, Johnny, and of course our Labrador, Penelope. She made us all feel very special every day with her loving smile and compassionate words. She shared her love of life and deep faith with everyone she met. The simple things in life were important to Alissa; like watching the sun set, listening to the rain fall, or seeing wild daisies bloom. She saw beauty in everyone and everything. She had the words Live, Laugh, and Love in every room of her home. She truly Lived simply, Laughed freely, and Loved deeply.
Alissa knew at a young age that she wanted to be a teacher. She had several very special teachers and mentors that made a profound impact on this decision. Her 3rd grade teacher, shared this memory “Alissa was on her way to the hospital for an MRI, and I had just begun the day with her classmates, we spoke about keeping Alissa in our thoughts while she was at the hospital – and who should appear at the door, but Alissa with her parents. She came to give a friend a card she made with a get well wish because she had sprained her ankle the day before. Alissa said she always appreciated cards sent to her throughout the year. Needless to say, it was difficult getting back to the lesson at hand. I remember saying to the class what a wonderful lesson we learned from Alissa today – Think of others and do something kind for them.”
Alissa graduated from Fredonia Central High School in 2009, and from Fredonia State University in December, 2013 with a dual degree in Elementary General Education and Special Education, with a Middle School English Language Arts Extension. At Fredonia State University’s College of Education, Alissa’s passion for teaching will always be remembered. In the words of faculty and staff “Alissa represented everything good about a teacher. To Alissa, educating children, our future generations, was more important than any other profession.” Alissa pursued her Master’s degree in Teaching and Curriculum, Specializing in Students with Significant and Multiple Disabilities from the Warner Graduate School of Education at University of Rochester, graduating in May, 2015. Professors at Warner shared this of Alissa “Alissa made it her passion to learn and work with students that needed the most support in a classroom. To find happiness and joy in a profession by valuing and prioritizing the happiness in others is perhaps the best gift any educator could ever give the world.” Here is a quote of her own from her philosophy paper, written in July 2014, “The most rewarding outcomes I find in this profession are experiencing the student’s comprehension, joy, and pride in their achievements; they may face numerous obstacles again and again, but when there’s a will there’s a way and I love being a part of the support system to make it happen.” These words rang true throughout her three years teaching.
Alissa returned to graduate study again during the summer of 2016 to add additional certifications in Early Childhood General Education and Special Education, fulfilling her education goals and becoming an inclusion kindergarten teacher.
Alissa loved being an inclusion kindergarten teacher. And she loved her school, the Theodore Roosevelt School #43 in the City of Rochester School District. She loved her colleagues and her classroom, but most importantly she loved each child that came into her classroom. Not only was it important to Alissa to academically teach her young students, she also shared love and compassion, and respect for themselves and others through her own strong faith. She gave them food when they were hungry, mittens to warm their hands, books to take home, and teddy bears to hug at night. She prayed for her children every day. In Alissa’s words “I love each of my students unconditionally and what they give me in return is so much more than I could ever give them!” One of Alissa’s closest colleagues said “I often feel her presence when I am listening to a child rather than talking to the child. She taught me and reminded me of the gift we teachers have. She was an exemplary teacher.” To honor Alissa’s memory and her love of daisies, her colleagues planted daisies around the school’s garden.
Alissa was a faithful servant and teacher to the young, the needy, the sick, the poor, the hungry, the elderly, the homeless, and everyone that she met. As a childhood cancer survivor, Alissa was very dedicated to children with cancer. She grew up as a Camp Good Days and Special Times camper, and later became a summer counselor for young campers for the past several years. The very special people of Camp Good Days share many of the same values and principles that Alissa had. See the good in everyone and everything, be honest, be kind, be compassionate, always be humble, and never give up. Words cannot describe how important Camp Good Days is in our lives. We have received love and support from them since Alissa was first diagnosed with brain cancer at age 7. We are very grateful for our Camp Good Days family.
Alissa was also very dedicated to her many friendships, even when life got busy or miles separated her from them, she always thought about her friends and the many things they accomplished together, and when she would see them again. In the words of dear friends “Alissa meant so much to us, she was sunshine, hope, joy, faith, and love all rolled into one impossibly wonderful person.”
Alissa did not have a mean bone in her body. She genuinely loved everyone that she met. She was truly a selfless person, always putting others needs before her own. We would like to share some words of wisdom that Alissa thought were truly important in life:
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
– St. Mother Teresa
We thank God for Blessing us with the beautiful person that Alissa was, and always will be.
Alissa, we love you and miss you, but you are always with us. See you in the sunshine!
Kenneth (Kenny) Bremer
Dates of Life: 12/18/1981 – 6/27/2017
Kenneth (Ken/Kenny) Bremer began as a camper at Camp Good Days & Special Times when the camp resided on Canandaigua Lake. Ken often said that camp was the only place he could truly be himself. He enjoyed participating in the various camp activities such as fishing off a boat, seaplane rides, go cart ride, arts & crafts. He also spent a lot of time swinging on the swings, but his absolute favorite activity was sneaking up on unsuspecting people and drenching them with his super soaker (which was always the first thing he packed for camp).
Camp Good Days was a place that helped Ken grow confidence in himself. This growing confidence that helped this visually impaired, 3’11’’ man graduate from high school, college, and go on to write 9 published books of poetry. He also would travel to New York City on a bus by himself to see a concert. Despite the many challenges he faced, he always met them head on and with a fighting attitude.
As Ken got older, he also volunteered at year round activities, such as Kazoo Fest and the Teddi Dance for Love. Ken was a beloved member of the Camp Good Days family, bringing hope to those children who had been newly diagnosed.
Ken’s memory will live on at Camp Good Days & Special Times as he will be inducted into our Ring of Honor this summer as well as through the expansion of our fishing program and through a journal writing program we are developing. Kenneth Bremer was an inspiration, a champion for those who could not fight for themselves, a big part of the Camp Good Days family, and someone who will be truly missed.
Ashley Nagel never grew old enough to spend a week at Camp Good Days and Special Times, but that didn’t stop the impact she made on Camp staff. To honor her memory, the Teddi Dance for Love is dedicated to Ashley, who lost her battle on September 1, 2013, about two months shy of her sixth birthday.
When she was 15 months old, Ashley was diagnosed with a brain tumor and her prognosis was not good. Over the next four years, she put up a fight, going through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and triumphing to reach periods of remission. Her parents, Wendy and Christopher, said she taught them how to embrace life during that time.
“Ashley loved life and each and every person who came into her life would be forever changed. Her cute little smile melted your heart and everyone will remember her deep, wonderful and contagious belly laugh. You didn’t always know what she was laughing at but it wouldn’t take long and you’d be laughing with her,” said Wendy.
Her parents also said that over the course of their daughter’s illness, many people gave so much so she could enjoy her short life to its fullest. When she turned three, the Make-A-Wish Foundation sent the Nagel family on a trip to Disney, where they stayed at Give Kids the World for a week with passes to Disney and Universal Studios. While there, she was able to celebrate Halloween and Christmas, complete with a parade and Disney characters. Her mom said that while Ashley wasn’t too fond of swimming before their trip, she became a fish in the water while they were there, which was something great for them to see.
After her initial diagnosis, Ashley had the opportunity to spend some time at Camp Good Days during their day for brain tumor patients. Her mom said she would frequently talk about going again to visit with the staff who had become her friends, but her mom’s fear was that if they waited until the next event for brain tumor patients came around, it might be too late.
Much to the Nagel family’s surprise, Camp staff arranged for Ashley to spend the night at camp a week before it was officially open. Her love of princesses transformed Camp into a land fit for a princess, complete with a golf cart turned into a princess carriage and a cabin turned into castle. Staff set up two elegant tables ready for a tea party with pink ribbons, bows, and balloons. Her bunk bed was decorated like a princess canopy bed. And the family was served all of Ashley’s favorite foods.
“They opened their hearts just for our little angel so she could spend one more time at a place she loved. Our little girl’s last wish could not have been more perfect,” said Wendy.
Ashley will be remembered with a balloon launch at the Teddi Dance on Saturday night after a brief dedication ceremony, and her parents will be there to offer remarks and lead the launch.