Ellicott City rallies for victims of fire

Benefit dinner raises more than $40,000 at Tersiguel's

November 23, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

To find a coat and tie to wear to dinner at Tersiguel's restaurant last night, James A. South, who lost nearly everything he owned in the fire that destroyed part of Main Street in Ellicott City this month, had to borrow from friends and pay a visit to Sears.

But he did get a free gourmet meal last night -- with the promise of more, much more, to come.

Fernand Tersiguel held a $100-a-head fund-raiser last night at his restaurant on Main Street to help victims of the fire Nov. 9. More than 300 people showed up, donating more than $40,000, with promises of more donations to come, said Janet Kusterer, a spokeswoman for the event.

The fire, which officials believe started when a discarded cigarette ignited some trash behind Main Street Blues, destroyed five businesses and four apartments and caused an estimated $2 million in damage.

Some of the victims have the resources they need to move on; others, like South, have next to nothing.

"I cross a new hurdle every day," said South, 54, wearing a coat and tie and tennis shoes. South, an Ellicott City waiter, said he lived in a third-floor apartment above Legends and The Nature Nook, two businesses destroyed in the fire. He did not have insurance, he said, and escaped his apartment the day of the fire with his cat, a leather jacket and a case filled with clothes.

Tersiguel knows how South and the other victims feel. Fifteen years ago, in Ellicott City's last big fire, he lost his business, then called Chez Fernand. He was devastated, he said, and didn't know at first if he could go on. But a friend held a fund-raiser for him, just as he felt compelled last night to hold a fund-raiser for the more recent victims.

"There's a lot of love between people, and we forget it," Tersiguel said just as the five-hour buffet dinner was getting under way at 4 p.m. "Things like this make the love come back."

Long before the usual dinner hour, guests clad in dresses and coats and ties were filling the narrow entrance to the restaurant. They were led upstairs, where they found poached salmon with dill sauce, chicken roulade, boeuf bourguignon, Italian sausage, a huge box of French bread, mashed potatoes, various vegetable dishes and, of course, the wine.

Fire victims, like South, were admitted free. Amid the aroma of fine French food, they mingled with paying guests who included some of the county's best-known politicians and community leaders.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey attended with his wife, as did former state Sen. James Clark Jr. Guests included state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, former County Executive Charles I. Ecker and County Council members C. Vernon Gray and Christopher J. Merdon. Developer Don Reuwer was there, as was former County Councilman Charles C. Feaga.

"It's an interesting mix of local politicians, friends of Main Street Ellicott City and the greater Ellicott City community," said John Kyle, a Columbia lawyer and member of the Ellicott City Sunrise Rotary. He was one of two men staffing the door, trying to keep track of the number of paying guests. "It's a very tightly knit community," he said.

All of the money collected last night will go to fire victims, Kusterer said. A committee made up of representatives from the Ellicott City Sunrise Rotary, the Rotary Club of Ellicott City (Evening Club) and several community leaders will meet next week to determine how to distribute the money, she said. To help them, she said, questionnaires are being given to victims to find out how much they lost and what kind of help they might need.

Last night, Dave Carroll, who used to be the manager of Main Street Blues, handed out the questionnaires to the fire victims and ushered them into the dinner.

"These guys need financial help, but they also need to know people are there for them," said Carroll, who is on the committee that will determine how to distribute the money raised last night. He said victims include not only those who lost homes and businesses but employees of the destroyed businesses who need to pay their bills while they wait for insurance money to pay their lost salaries.

"We're also going to offer our expertise," Kusterer said. "Say you don't need money but you really need help finding a place: We're going to find a way to network. Sometimes people need something besides money. This is a traumatic event."

Tersiguel estimates that he spent at least $8,000 on the meal.

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