BRUNSWICK, OH -- In a private area, tucked far behind St. Ambrose Church on Pearl Road in Brunswick, more than 50 people gathered Thursday night.
Despite the drizzle and chill in the air, the group sang, prayed and dedicated a beautiful stacked stone grotto in the names of four teenagers killed a terrible car crash a year ago.
Unlike other ceremonies held this week, this service was a true celebration of life.
“They were very spirited, energetic, vivacious and lively young people,” said Fr. Bob Stec.
Lexi Poerner, 16, Kevin Fox, 18, Jeffrey Chaya, 18 and Blake Bartchak, 17, all died in the accident June 3, 2012.
Since then, the families said the community as a whole has been unbelievably supportive.
“Everything is overwhelming in a good way,” said Savana Poerner, Lexi’s sister. “I just feel so loved by my friends, my family the community.”
They are clearly loved in Brunswick.
The large grotto with a golden “Resurrection Jesus” sculpture was made possible through generous donations and a lot of hard work by local companies.
The Brunswick Blue Pride Foundation was also formed and has raised money for scholarships to be given away in the four students' names.
But despite all of the positive activities, families said the anniversary has felt like they’re living the tragedy all over again.
“After this week, we’ll be able to breathe again,” said Amanda Chaya.
The sadness was made brighter by a surprise visitor and speaker Thursday night.
Former Ohio State University Coach and current VP of Strategic Engagement at Akron University Jim Tressel was so touched by the tragedy and the courage shown by the families, that he not only attended, but also addressed the crowd.
“So often, over this year. I thought about the strength they gave all of us,” said Tressel. “When I was contacted, I was like, absolutely.”
Tressel was also a hero of one of the victims.
Family members said there is still an autographed book on a shelf in Blake Bartchak’s bedroom.
Blake had a favorite saying: “Go Big or Go Home.”
His older brother Brent said Blake would’ve thought it was “huge” to meet Tressel.
“For Tressel to come out and recognize Blake, he’s got big smile up there, I know that for sure, for sure,” said Brent.
But it was Coach Tressel who said he was truly humbled and honored to be invited.
“Because you can’t even imagine that as a parent – when you’re not the one it happened to, you can’t even fathom what you’d be thinking, be feeling and to see the way this community wrapped their arms around one another and these families, that’s what’s great about the part of the world we live in,” said Tressel.
The families also expressed their gratitude.
They said the love and support shown by Brunswick has gotten them through many dark days
“We can’t even explain how thankful we are for everything,” said Savana Poerner.
“This is a great way to just celebrate the lives lost last year,” added Brent Bartchak.
They said years and even decades from now, people can look at the grotto and remember the love and bonds of friendship formed from this tragedy.
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