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Watertown resident builds memorial for COVID victims in city park | Health Matters


WATERTOWN — Allison F. Gorham thought “it was absolutely necessary” when President Joseph R. Biden attended a memorial at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., last month to honor the more than 400,000 Americans who died from the coronavirus.

The TenEyck Street resident wanted to do the same for those who died locally from COVID-19.

She put up a memorial in Clinton Park, the small city-owned park at Holcomb and South Massey streets that she’s decorated for holidays for the past 11 years. Completed on Wednesday, it’s the first memorial in the city devoted to the victims of the pandemic.

“When I started working on it, there were 24 or 25 who died here,” she said. “Now it’s like up to 54 or 55. I think we needed to do something to remember them.”

Jefferson County has reported a total of 61 virus-related deaths as of Thursday, and 155 virus deaths have been recorded to-date in the tri-county region.

She started with an American flag, then added 48 luminaries — bags with battery-powered votive “candles” inside — and big banners that read “Hope” and “Heal.”

She wished she could included a luminary for each of those who died from the virus, but she knows that local number will only increase as the days of the pandemic continue.

Already, people are thanking her for thinking about those who have died.

While snowshoeing in Thompson Park on Thursday, she ran into an old friend, Julie Derrigo Intschert, whose mother, Joan H. Derrigo, 81, died of COVID last month.

The two women stopped on the trail in Thompson Park, hugged and started crying. The friend told her at some point the pandemic will be over for most people, but it won’t be to anyone who lost a loved one from COVID.

“She was just grateful that her mother was acknowledged that she died of COVID,” Mrs. Gorham said.

Mrs. Intschert saw the memorial when she drove by it on the way to church.

“It was so emotional. It shows people care,” she said. “It means so much for the people in the city and the county.”

Her mother died Jan. 11 after being exposed to the virus following an appointment at the hairdresser. She spent 10 days in the Carthage rehab center before taking a turn for the worse.

She talked to her mother through the window, while her mom sat up in her bed Saturday. Twelve hours later, she was sent to the emergency room and was gone two days later, dying of congestive heart failure.

“I never thought I’d lose her to COVID,” she said.

The oldest of nine children, it was her mother’s nature to always take care of people. She loved to cook, especially Italian dishes, and spent a lot of time in the garden of her Sackets Harbor home.

“She was a perfectionist, she had a certain way of doing things,” Mrs. Intschert said.

Last year, Mrs. Gorham was the recipient of the 68th annual Israel A. Shapiro Citizenship Award to honor her for all of the work she’s done in the community.

Mrs. Gorham, with the help of her husband, Brett, has planned, and in some cases funded and actually constructed, many improvements and projects throughout the city, such as the gardens at Hospice and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Community Garden and the small city park. She’s also involved in a number of nonprofit organizations.

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