Montoursville memorial to victims of Flight 800 seeks $200,000 for improvements

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MONTOURSVILLE – A living memorial to the Montoursville victims of TWA Flight 800 needs work and the committee responsible for its upkeep is seeking to raise $200,000 to do so.

The Montoursville Memorial Gardens were dedicated in 1999, three years after the TWA plane exploded shortly after taking off from JFK airport in New York en route to Paris.

Sixteen secondary school students from the Montoursville area and five chaperones on a French club trip were among the 230 people killed in the crash on July 17, 1996.

Designed as a living memorial, the growth is one of the reasons renovations are needed. The roots of the 21 silver maples (one for each victim) push up the circular brick walkway.

“The catwalk is a hazard,” said Scott Konkle, borough representative on the three-member Perpetual Care Committee. “The lawn is terrible.”

Plans are to replace the bricks with concrete pavers and move the walkway to the center about 20 feet from the roots at an estimated cost of $79,000.

The hemlocks along the east and west property lines are to be replaced at an estimated $14,900 with emerald green arborvitae that do not need pruning.

The mulch around the maple trees will be replaced with pachysandra ground cover at a cost of $28,000. Ground cover will eliminate the need to purchase mulch on an annual basis.

A landscaping company offered to repair the lawn at no cost.

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Renovations are scheduled for this fall depending on how fundraising goes, said Dale Ulmer, a school board member who has served on the committee since its inception.

The budget to build the memorial was around $125,000, he recalls.

So much labor and materials were donated that about $25,000 was left and placed in a fund for annual maintenance costs, he said.

That fund is now depleted and, as Konkle says, the park “needs loving care.”

By setting a goal of $200,000, it is hoped that there will be enough funds to cover maintenance costs for the foreseeable future, Ulmer said.

The park, along Broad Street and adjacent to the secondary school, includes an 8-foot-tall angel and a millstone from a mill built in 1825.

“A place of peace, hope and remembrance” is engraved on the stone. which faces Broad Street. The granite plinth of the angel contains the names of the 21 victims.

Also inscribed is this passage explaining why the angel is important:

“On the evening of July 21, 1996 (four days after the tragedy) a cloud in the shape of an angel appeared above the Lycée de Montoursville. At the feet of the angel were 21 smaller white clouds, first in a circle, then appearing in two straight rows.

“Two small rainbows appeared and arched over the community of Montoursville. The sky was unusually calm that evening and was a beautiful shade of blue.

“A smaller, dove-shaped cloud formed and the sky turned a gorgeous pink and blue glade color as the sun set.

“Many of those who attended these trainings felt a calm inner peace. As news of these events spread through the community, an immense sense of spiritual support developed.

“The angel became a symbol that bound the community to those aboard TWA Flight 800.

“This image captured on film by a local resident is seen by many as a sign that communicated the well-being of our loved ones.”

Also on the base of a monument is a passage telling how “in an instant life changed forever”, how the world reacted and “they [victims] are forever in our hearts.

Those wishing to contribute are asked to make checks payable to the MASD Memorial Fund and mail to the School District Office, 50 North Arch St., Montoursville, PA 17754.

A mention must be made if the donation is in memory or in honor of someone.

After:

Tribute to the high school students of Montoursville who were victims of the TWA 800 flight in 1996

Roadwork will affect traffic on State Routes 15 and 147 north of the Harrisburg area beginning Monday

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