Town of Smithtown residents now have a place where they can sit down to remember the life of 6-year-old Paige Keely along with other children who have died too soon.
Three Nesconset residents Danielle Hoering, Bridget Scher and Sasha Worontzoff, members of Tackan Elementary School’s Parent-Teacher Association, spearheaded the creation of a memorial to Paige Keely installed at Nesconset gazebo Aug. 2.
The 6-year-old Paige was first-grader at St. James Elementary who died suddenly of a rare, undetected brain condition called arteriovenous malformation Jan. 8. It’s an abnormal development of blood vessels that connect arteries and veins, which occurs in less than 1 percent of the population, according to the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center based in Minnesota.
“I know what it’s like to lose someone,” Worontzoff said. “People end up forgetting after a while or move onto the next big thing and we didn’t want people to.”
The St. James community initially showed its support for Keely’s parents, Tom and Gina, along with her two siblings by tying pink ribbons – Paige’s favorite color – around trees, stop signs and telephone poles in the community. Now, there is a permanent pink ribbon at the Nesconset gazebo.
In memory of Paige and all children who have died, a cherry blossom tree donated by Borella Nursery Wholesale Growers in Nesconset was planted near the gazebo as it will blossom with pink flowers each year. The tree was surrounded by a garden with a stone plaque, and a white bench inscribed a pink ribbon dedicating it “In Memory of Paige Keely.” The Town of Smithtown Parks, Building & Grounds Department helped install the memorial.
“We wanted to do it in a public area so that all families could come and enjoy it, not just at a school,” Scher said. “We just wanted a spot where people can sit and reflect or pay respect to Paige and the family.”
The gazebo was selected as the memorial site because several public events like the Nesconset Concert series are hosted at the park, attracting families and community members. Local businesses and those in the community donated money to help fund the project.
“People end up forgetting after a while or move onto the next big thing and we didn’t want people to.”
– Sasha Worontzoff
“We wanted each person and each establishment to have a sense of contribution to this permanent fixture in our community,” Worontzoff said. “We really just wanted Nesconset people to help and be a part of it.”
Worontzoff and Hoering had to get permission from Smithtown’s elected officials in order to build the memorial on town-owned land.
“We were so grateful and appreciative that the parks and rec and Town Hall were so quick and knew our story ahead of time,” Worontzoff said. “It was wonderful.”
She hopes local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops will maintain the memorial and keep it in good condition throughout the years.
This is the second memorial to be constructed in Paige’s memory. Earlier this summer, St. James Elementary School dedicated a butterfly garden on its grounds at the Keely family’s request.