Special to the OBSERVER
Twenty years can seem like forever, or it can pass in the blink of an eye - it all depends on your perspective.
In September 1993, Dunkirk resident Melanie Bucklin was killed in a car accident at the young age of 21. Her car was hit by another vehicle that crossed the center line and entered her lane, hitting her head on. As the 20-year mark of her death approached, her family decided to act to commemorate her legacy, rather than simply mourn her loss. And that's when something truly special began to happen.
Melanie spent several years prior to her death working in the Children's Room of the Dunkirk Free Library. She was instrumental in coordinating the summer programs that local children participated in at the library and created many of them herself. A valued employee at the time of her accident, the library erected a memorial in her memory when she died that remains in front of the building to this day.
So this summer as the 20-year anniversary of her accident approached, her older sister, Jennifer (Bucklin) Cross of Peoria, Ill. decided to reach out to the director of the library and spearhead a fundraiser for the Children's Room in her sister's memory. Initially, she told Janice Dekoff that she hoped to raise $500 in her sister's memory and to surprise her mother, Mrs. Carole (Richard) Ricker of Fredonia, and father, Bruce (Kathy) Bucklin of Leesburg, Va. to let them know that Melanie lived on in people's hearts and memories.
In the six weeks that followed that phone call, this fundraiser has brought in almost $3,000 for needs in the Children's Room.
"We were so touched to have Jennifer contact us to be a part of celebrating Melanie's memory. She affected the lives of so many, especially in her work at the library. It is a real privilege to pay tribute to her. The thoughtfulness displayed by Melanie's family and friends is just amazing. The library will be a better place thanks to their generosity," said Janice Dekoff.
Donors have included family members, high school friends, Coughlin's Pub (another former employer of Melanie's) and even people who never met Melanie, but who were touched by the idea. The family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. "What has really stayed with me is how grateful people are to have been involved, and to have had something positive to contribute to that can have such a huge impact for the children of this community," said Jennifer Cross.
Another positive outcome from this devastating loss has been the local grief support group that Carole facilitates through the First United Methodist Church in Fredonia. Beginning annually in September, Carole has shepherded hundreds of people through their grief over the last 18 years.
Neither of these activities comes easy.
"It's definitely something that never goes away," said Cross. "Twenty years later, you think about different losses. She wasn't in my wedding and my children are missing an aunt. My parents both got remarried and neither of their spouses knew my sister. But you can't change it so the alternative is to make the most of what you have and be grateful. It's a daily choice and some days are harder than others. But this fundraiser - this year in particular - made this anniversary bearable."
Meanwhile, the donations keep coming in. "The library is still accepting donations for this fund until Oct. 31, 2013," said Dekoff. If you are interested in contributing, please make checks payable to "Dunkirk Free Library" and write "Melanie Bucklin" in the memo field. Donations can be dropped off at the library, or mailed to 526 Central Ave., Dunkirk, NY 14048. All proceeds are tax deductible and benefit the Children's Room.