Friends' devotion to Alyssa Barberi transcends time

Classmates travel from colleges near and far for Butterfly race, and to remember the dear friend they lost in sixth grade

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  • Devoted friends (from left): Mariela Fuentes, Elise Bukowski, Kathryn Jankelunas and Amanda Almodovar (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Makenna Rose (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • The two Gabriels: Gabriel Burgos, 3, wears the medal given to him by Gabriel Thomas (right), the actual winner (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Little Gabriel Burgos reaches for the medal won by Gabriel Thomas as Sue Barberi and everyone else erupts in laughter (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Haley Troup, #57, age 11, and Anna Vogel, #59,age 9, second and first place, respectively, for girls 11 and under group (Photo by Ginny Privitar)


Overall winners
1st place John Drumgoole: time 20:48
2nd place Julia Legato: time 23:35
3rd place James Woods: time 25:09
Girls 11 and under
1st place Anna Vogel: time 30:51
2nd place Haley Troup: time 32:30
3rd place Ella Vogel: time 34:19
Boys 11 and under
1st place Andrew MacEntee: time 29:34
2nd place Matthew Drillings: time 38:24
(No 3rd place winner)
Girls 12-15
1st place Isabella Steinberg: time 31:44
2nd place Julianna Gesztesi: time 33:35
3rd place Carli MacEntee: time 36:48
Boys 12-15
1st place Kevin Horan: time 27:36
2nd place Gabriel Thomas: time 32:46
3rd place Derek Beck time: 54:37
Girls 16-19
1st place Makenna Rose
(No 2nd or 3rd place)
Boys 16-19
(No participants)
Women 20-29
1st place Shaina Shorell: time 35:27
(No 2nd or 3rd place)
Men 20-29
1st place Alex Benedict: time 29:37
(No 2nd or 3rd place)
Women 30-39
1st place Katey Frambach: time 26:55 (she is also 4 place overall)
2nd place Raquel Colin: time 27:08
3rd place Megan McDermont time 30:42
Men 30-39
1st place Greg Bartholdi time 36:17
(No 2nd or 3rd place)
Women 40-49
1st place Liz Arone: time 30:37
2nd place Sharon Drumgoole: time 31:19
3rd place Beth Dodin: time 32:58
Men 40-49
1st place Kevin MacEntee time 29:35
2nd place Frank Vogel time 30:52
3rd place Stephen Elter time 30:45
Women 50-59
1st place Terri Sadlier time 33:49
2nd place Cathy Battiato time 37:43
3rd place Julie Drillings time 44:01
Men 50-59
1st place Peter Artusa time 27:25
2nd place Marty Fredeircks time 29:07
3rd place Joe Geller time 32:53
(No participants for 60 and over age group)

By Ginny Privitar

— Some classmates, now young adults, came from colleges far away to pay tribute to Alyssa Barberi, the friend they lost in sixth grade, at the "5K Butterfly Run/Walk" held in her memory.

The Chester Elementary School student died suddenly on March 8, 2009, at age 11. But her memory lives on in her family, friends and fellow classmates, who meet at the event every October.

Those who knew her best shared their memories at the Oct. 15 event.

“Today is a special day honoring and memorializing my beautiful daughter Alyssa, along with her fellow classmates who returned from college this weekend to be part of this...and keep her memory alive," said Susan Barberi, Alyssa’s mom. "This morning funds a memorial scholarship, which is given out to a graduating senior.”

Mariela Fuentes, who is attending The Culinary Institute of America, said Alyssa was her best friend.

"She was always there for me," she said. "Just the way that she was — she always brought light into the room. Her laugh and her little special chipmunk dance were always funny and would always cheer me up. This day means a lot because obviously she’s not here. She was an amazing person....This is a very special day and I’m happy I could be included in it.”

Amanda Almodovar, currently a student at Mount Saint Mary College, said the day meant a lot to everyone gathered.

"We all started in first grade and coming back every year just means a lot," she said. "We all come back together because she would have been here, too."

Kathryn Jankelunas attends James Madison College in East Lansing, Michigan.

"She went to the doctor that weekend and they thought it was a common cold," she said, recalling that fateful time. "We saw Alyssa Friday at school and then we heard about it that weekend and didn’t understand really what was happening.”

And it wasn’t until later that they discovered that her heart was affected by influenza.

"It was amazing because Mrs. Barberi through all that stayed so strong," Kathryn recalled. "During that time I remember her distinctively telling me, ‘I’m not leaving my girls. I will be with you girls through all of it.’”

Susan Barberi was, and remained, Girl Scout Leader for Troop 325 from Chester.

“Every time that people asked Mrs. Barberi how she did it, she said, ‘My girls helped me through it.’ But she really helped us through it. She was really our crutch through the whole process."

Kathryn said Mrs. Barberi did not let her grief isolate her from the community.

“Obviously she was upset as a mother would be, but really helped the community," she said. "It made the whole difference. The fact that even today, she’s still making the effort and keeping Alyssa’s memory is inspiring, and I will take that inspiration throughout my whole life.”

Classmate Makenna Rose attends the University of South Carolina.

“It means a lot, especially that so many people still come out, years later," she said. "And a lot of us are in college now, and it means a lot that everyone still comes home from college. I drove up from South Carolina to be here. And it’s nice to see the seniors even now — like my younger brother. Everyone — they get their whole class together. All the teachers come out and bring their kids, so all the kids get to run, and it’s very exciting.”

Elise Bukowski, who attends the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said having a tragedy happen at a young age "really hits home."

"We were in the Girl Scout Troop, all of us," she said. "It was hard growing up, but it really helped us come together as a community, especially as a Girl Scout Troop and with Mrs. Barberi, too. She kind of acted like a mother to all of us...It really shows how strong she was. She didn’t just hide in the shadows when tragedy hit. She really came forward and helped everyone in the community and became even more involved in the community, which really was inspiring. Growing up as young girls, it really showed us how we should act when we grow up and how we should really be in helping the community."

She knows the devotion of Alyssa's many friends will remain unchanged.

"I’ll be 40 and I’m still going to come back and run the race and help out. Even though she’s not here with us today," said Elise. "Her memory is always going to run through our veins and through who we are and really helped impact us today. I want to stress how much it impacted us as people. Whenever I see a butterfly" — Alyssa’s favorite — "I always think of Alyssa.”

Time has dried the tears, even while memories remain strong. In fact, there were smiles all around, and one light moment made everyone laugh heartily. As medals were handed out to runners in different age categories, Gabriel Thomas, a Middletown resident and student at John S. Burke Catholic High School, heard his name called. Before he could step up from the back of the crowd, little Gabriel Burgos, age 3, heard his first name called. He promptly stepped up and extended his arm for the medal. In a gesture of grace and generosity, Gabriel Thomas gave his medal to little Gabriel Burgos to keep.

Editor's note: Alyssa's last day of school was Friday, March 6, 2009. That weekend she felt ill and was taken to the doctor, who thought it was a cold or virus. Two days later, she died. Subsequent tests determined that she had Influenza B, which had also attacked her heart, causing myocarditis.

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