Drive honors fallen officers

Police's memorial weekend elicits both funds and emotions

`This is a labor of love'

July 25, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Elaine Sweeney hit the cobbled streets of Fells Point yesterday morning for a fund-raising endeavor that inspired strangers to not only drop money in her cloth satchel, but also share stories about friends and family and shed the occasional tear.

Sweeney, widow of Baltimore police Lt. Owen E. Sweeney Jr., who was fatally shot in 1997, joined more than 70 volunteers yesterday canvassing the city to raise money for a $2 million memorial honoring more than 100 officers killed in the line of duty.

Members of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Memorial Fund Board hope to start building the elaborate 30,000-square-foot memorial with tall Doric pillars and a promenade in Shot Tower Park on North President Street in October.

"This is a labor of love," said Sweeney, 50. "I just really wish I was raising money for a memorial because my husband did something heroic and was still alive, not because he died doing something heroic."

Karen Hanrahan, the memorial fund's campaign director, said the street fund-raising effort was part of the FOP's first Police Memorial Weekend. Police officers and the families and friends of slain officers also headed to Little Italy, Charles Village, the Inner Harbor, Mondawmin Mall and Oriole Park at Camden Yards to collect money. Volunteers will be collecting donations again today.

The board has raised $250,000 -- which includes $50,000 pledges from the city and state -- and aims to complete the project in November 2000. The new memorial will replace a smaller, less visible one in Shot Tower Park that Donald D. Pomerleau, police commissioner in 1978, dedicated after 13 officers were killed in five years.

`He was a good one'

Yesterday's fund raising touched donors as well as volunteers. Marvin Sydnor, a Baltimore City homicide detective, stopped outside Jimmy's Restaurant on Broadway to chat with Sweeney about her husband, with whom he had worked.

"He was a good one," Sydnor said quietly. "We felt bad."

For citizens and officers

Sydnor, 48, told Sweeney that his partner in the Narcotics Division, Marcellus Ward, was killed in the line of duty five years ago.

"I miss Marty all the time," Sydnor said. "This memorial is not only going to be for the citizens to reflect upon, but also the officers. A lot of those killed are guys we've known."

It was also for that reason that Paul Napoli, a paramedic and volunteer firefighter in Oceanside, N.Y., dropped $5 into Sweeney's bag. Wearing a dark blue Los Angeles County Fire Department T-shirt, Napoli -- who was visiting Baltimore for the weekend -- instantly pulled out the money when Sweeney told him her cause.

Firefighting heroes

"I know a couple of firefighters who died in the line of duty," said Napoli, 47. "Something like this will honor outstanding people who did outstanding jobs."

Tears began welling up in Sweeney's eyes again as Napoli spoke.

"I hadn't thought about firefighters who also have been killed," said Sweeney, wiping her eyes. "Come here and give me a hug."

Cathartic moments

Watching his sister hug a stranger who nonetheless shared a bond with their family, Jerry Dzierwinski said they had expected the weekend's fund raising to be emotional. But it turned out to be cathartic and rewarding as well.

"It's so easy to forget," said Dzierwinski, 46, who noted that Lt. Sweeney was godfather to his 11-year-old son, Kevin.

"As the days and the weeks and months pass by, little by little it seems to fade," he said. "But it shouldn't fade, and this is our little way of ensuring that doesn't happen."

Pub Date: 7/25/99

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