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Tenacious villages to honor spirit

Rock River Revival Parade to mark community strength, unity a year after Irene’s floods

WILLIAMSVILLE—Tropical Storm Irene may have knocked down South Newfane and Williamsville, but these two villages are rising again.

And to mark the one year anniversary of the storm that wreaked so much havoc along the Rock River, and to celebrate the resilience of South Newfane and Williamsville, the villages are putting on a parade and a barbecue on Sunday, Aug. 26.

The Rock River Revival Parade will begin at noon near the green iron bridge in South Newfane, and finish a mile down the Dover Road to Williamsville Hall, the place that a year ago sheltered Irene’s victims.

The parade will feature dozens of firefighters and their engines from the South Newfane/Williamsville Fire Department, the Newfane Congregational Church, musicians such as the Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School Samba Band and the Buzzard’s Brass Band, the Moore Free Library, a Queen Irene float, and local elected officials, among others.

As the parade ends at the Williamsville Hall, Jon Julian, a Dover Road resident who operates the Top of the Hill Grill in Brattleboro, will serve a barbecue lunch.

South Newfane artist Chris Triebert, along with other community members, organized this event to honor how the community came together in a time of disaster.

“This whole thing came about in a conversation with my neighbor David Moore,” Triebert explained. “He’s a volunteer fireman in South Newfane/Williamsville.”

Triebert said volunteer firefighters aided dozens of residents who had either lost their houses, or were in other ways confined by the vast Irene flooding that had separated houses from their foundations and sent them sailing down the Rock River and smacking into its banks.

“After the flood, community spirit was crucial,” Triebert said. “We were all aware of the incredible value of close community — which is what we experienced after the flood.”

Raising funds for crucial services

Triebert said the parade is not just a celebration of community values, it is a fundraiser for the South Newfane/Williamsville Fire Department, with some of the proceeds also going to NewBrook Fire and Rescue Department. Both are all-volunteer departments staffed by firefighters who often lose pay from their regular jobs when their fire and rescue services are required.

On Aug. 28, 2011, the day Irene hit, South Newfane/Williamsville Fire Chief Chris Jones and Assistant Chief Todd Brown traveled in a pickup truck as soon as they could, moving along the Dover Road to find safe haven for many of the residents along the Rock River.

Jones lives on Adams Hill on the Dover-South Newfane line, and couldn’t get to his home on Adams Hill for four days. He had no way of communicating with his family except by portable radio.

Moore, who is First Assistant Fire Chief, was the emergency management director for the town of Newfane and its villages, and was the conduit between the towns and the state.

“At first, we were all overlooking the mass destruction, plus the progress,” he said, “until we began to see that the browns and the greens weren’t equal.”

After he got his wife off Dover Road, he worked straight out and managed to assist most of the residents in the critical areas. But there was one couple, he said, that just didn’t see eye-to-eye with the danger assessment. He finally called Mutual Aid and asked for their help.

“I think what saved them was this wall of wood that came rushing down, keeping the water down,” he said.

He said Irene was as bad as it gets in his experience. Except once.

“I saved a small child, actually in the same area. He wandered away from home with his black Lab and I found them up the hill and only because the dog was barking. The child was four years old, Moore thought.

Thoughtful and introspective, Moore said he is most hopeful when people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, “like helping one another. I walk early in the morning from my house to about the covered bridge. There are three houses below me that are probably habitable and two houses that aren’t. It’s almost surreal, like a ghost town.

“When I was bringing my wife home. I said to her, ‘We’re never going home.’ I’d built chairs for us and a foster child we take care of to sit and watch the river. She’s 10, and wasn’t here for the floods. She called later on and asked if we were all right and she wanted to know if the swing I’d put up for her was still there. It wasn’t.”

He said that’s what he meant, that in a way Irene had taken their home away, including a wide swath of his land.

He said he’ll doubtless ride with the fire engines in the parade and, while he wants to participate, he wishes he could sit back and just contemplate the time during Irene when people were thinking about the common good.

And, he added, in a certain way, he’d like to just have time to “acknowledge each other’s value” and a time to appreciate.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #162 (Wednesday, July 25, 2012).

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