By Stephen McKinley
Like so many after Sept. 11, the Irish in East Durham, N.Y., were eager to somehow help the victims of the World Trade Center tragedy. Last Saturday, they finally had a chance to help the widow and family of one fire department hero.
Like so many others, members of the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Center in East Durham had been overwhelmed by the scale of the human tragedy that had unfolded in lower Manhattan and began to wonder if anything they could do would make a difference.
Then Diane Doyle, a member of the Cultural Center committee, mentioned that her cousin Jean-Marie had been married to Frank Palumbo, a Brooklyn firefighter killed on the 11th. He was four days away from his retirement and left not just his widow but their 10 children as well.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it, let’s do something,’ ” said committee member Helen Hauswald. They canvassed the East Durham area for merchants and store owners who would donate something to the Palumbo family to help them in a time of loss and need.
And so, on Jan. 19, committee President Ken Dudley, Helen Hauswald and her husband, Ronny, and fellow committee members Mary Gleeson and Diane Doyle, came to Brooklyn to offer the Palumbo family their help. They asked Palumbo if she would agree for her and the children to be “adopted” for two weeks and taken to East Durham for an all-expenses-paid vacation. Palumbo agreed readily.
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“It helps a lot to see that people care so much,” she told Dudley and the other committee members at the presentation at her house in Park Slope.
“We are glad to be a positive part of your life,” Dudley told her and welcomed her and her family into the hospitality of the committee and the people of East Durham, often referred to as the “33rd county” of Ireland. He assured her that local companies had donated everything from miniature golf passes to horseback riding lessons, so that both she and her children would be able to relax away from New York City and also enjoy the Celtic Festival, which will then be taking place at Hunter Mountain.
Earlier, before the presentation, the committee members had met the men of Engine 219 and Ladder 105, Frank Palumbo’s company, at the fire house on Dean Street and Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn. The house lost 10 men on Sept. 11.