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Hotshots' tribute fence items preserved

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Jan Monroe looks down one of the aisles holding the mementos that people left at the Sixth Street fire station in the aftermath of the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ deaths on June 30.

PRESCOTT - A weight appeared to be lifting this week from the volunteers who have spent months recording and preserving the anguished remem-brances that came after the June 30 deaths of 19 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The volunteers have spent the past three months painstakingly processing the thousands of items that grief-stricken family members, friends, and strangers left on the fence bordering the Sixth Street fire station that the Hotshots once called home.

After dismantling the memorial wall in early September, a core group of volunteers has returned week after week to meticulously sort, photograph, and assign numbers to the items before storing them away on tidy shelves.

Now, group members say they are just weeks away from wrapping up the project.

"We're very, very close," said Jan Monroe, volunteer director of the effort.

While the official end of the Tribute Fence Preservation Project is scheduled for Jan. 17, Monroe and fellow volunteer director Dottie Morris say they hope to have much of the work done before Christmas.

After months of reading emotional letters and finding moving personal tributes among the stacks of mementos, the volunteers were visibly relieved this week to be wrapping up.

"There's something about the accomplishment," Kay Asimakis said as she worked at shelving remaining items on Thursday.

As the self-described "freezer lady," Asimakis has been in charge of putting the items into one of the available large freezers, where they stay for several days to ensure that any insect larvae from the items' months outdoors is killed.

Morris and Monroe say they have been amazed at the dedication and loyalty of the volunteers.

"Prescott's finest people walk through those doors," Monroe said.

Volunteer Deborah Balzano, who has devoted four days a week to the effort, said the process has been overwhelming at times.

"One day, I really lost it," she said. "I found an infant's onesie with the words, 'My daddy is a hero.'"

And just like the fence served as a forum where the community could show its grief, volunteers say the preservation process has helped them deal with the tragedy.

"I wanted to do something," volunteer Marian Powell explained on Thursday. "That was the same motivation people had for putting things on the fence - they wanted to do something. This is my way to do something."

Volunteer Ered Matthew said that, for many, the fence served as "therapy through art and creating something."

Ted Pohle, a retired schoolteacher, said he found the children's tributes - including many miniature toy fire trucks - especially touching.

Local restaurant owner Barry Barbe said he has been impressed by the dedication of the volunteers. Early on, he offered to provide them with lunch once a week from his El Gato Azul restaurant. On Thursday, he delivered his sixth catered lunch to the group.

Along the way, Barbe said he has been "floored" as he has watched the "care and love and respect" of the preservation effort. "I think it makes everyone who sent something (for the wall) feel better," he said.

Barbe's contributions are among the many that the Tribute Wall effort has received from the community. Monroe and Morris say countless businesses and individuals have supplied time and materials over the past three months.

Still, as they approach their final month, volunteers say they still have some pressing needs.

Because the group never acquired official 501(c)3 non-profit status, Monroe and Morris say they cannot accept cash from contributors. As an alternative, they say, gift cards from businesses such as Walmart, Costco, and Staples would be helpful to buy the supplies needed to finish up the project. The organizers say they provide donors an accounting of how the gift cards are used.

Arrangements for contributions can be made by emailing Monroe at sadiemutt@hotmail.com, with the subject line TFPP (for Tribute Fence Preservation Project).

As for the future of the archived items, Prescott city officials say a decision is still pending. Pete Wertheim, communications and public affairs manager for the city, said he expects an announcement to occur in January concerning a permanent memorial.

Until then, Wertheim said, the details continued to be worked out. To help guide the process, he has called other communities that have experienced large-scale tragedies, such as Tucson, Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., where mass shootings occurred in 2011 and 2012.

"The one common denominator in all of their advice is to not rush things," Wertheim said. Some communities take years to develop plans for permanent memorials, he added.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter@Cindy_Barks.


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