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Heartfelt benefit raises $5,000 for grieving family of boy killed following tragic blaze
The mother of a young boy who died following a motorhome fire in August said her family just grew “100 times bigger.”
That was Amanda O’Connor’s sentiment at Saturday’s benefit at the Okanagan Falls Legion.
“I can’t believe it … I appreciate the support for my family,” she said through tears. “I love each and every one of you.”
The benefit raised approximately $5,000 for the family, who practically lost everything in the August 28 fire that destroyed their motorhome.
Eight-year-old Cody O’Connor was trapped inside but was rescued by Oliver Fire Chief Dan Skaros.
However, the community’s heart would soon be broken by Cody’s passing from complications suffered in the fire a few weeks later.
Myrt Niles from the Okanagan Falls Legion organized the October 19 fundraiser with the help of legion members in Osoyoos and Oliver.
The 12-hour benefit featured numerous performances by singers and musicians including Rusty Copeland from Osoyoos and Mikie Spillett from Oliver.
Spillett and partner Ken Repkow performed a special song dedicated to Cody’s family. Spillett’s grandson was Cody’s classmate.
“This was so very stressful and I could not get it out of my head . . . I woke up at 3 a.m. and had this song in my head that I could not shake.”
Spillett said she quickly wrote it down and Repkow produced the music to go with it.
The song, “Sing Strong,” was very emotional for Cody’s family to hear.
Amanda said she couldn’t believe how many people (approximately 200) showed up to support them.
“It’s incredible . . . I was totally overwhelmed when I walked through the door,” she said.
Cody’s stepfather Ramsey De Prez said he was also shocked and surprised to see all the people.
Grandmother Pearl De Prez said the benefit renewed her faith in people. In fact, all of this support has kept the family so busy that they haven’t had a lot of down time to be consumed by grief, she pointed out.
Amanda said Cody would have really enjoyed the benefit.
“He’d be making his presence known, trust me.”
Skaros, who attended the benefit with his wife Karen, admitted showing up was tough.
“It was the first time that the mom (Amanda) and I met since the incident. It’s emotional.”
But he acknowledged it was important for him to be there.
Skaros rescued Cody by pulling him out of the burning motorhome. He said it was something any trained individual would have done.
Skaros was asked a question on behalf of an 11-year-old girl from Okanagan Falls who wanted to know how the community could make this sad situation better.
“It’s all about teaching your kids,” Skaros replied, noting that educating young children about fire safety is paramount. “Kids have to know what fire can do.”
Skaros said the fundraiser demonstrated how much community support there is in the aftermath of a tragedy.
Amanda and Pearl gave Skaros a big hug during a presentation of volunteer firefighters.
Area chiefs included Bob Haddow from Okanagan Falls, Darlene Bailey from Kaleden, Brad Fossett from Willowbrook, and Rick Jones from Osoyoos.
Bailey said she attended the event as a show of support for Skaros and his “heroic efforts.” She noted he did a great thing and as volunteer firefighters, they all stick together.
Jones was happy to attend in order to support the family in their time of need. He noted the Osoyoos Fire Department donates to various causes, including the children’s burn unit in Vancouver and to the pediatric department at Penticton Regional Hospital.
Fossett said the most difficult component about being a firefighter is loss of life.
“When it happens, you have to show support,” he said.
When Fossett became a firefighter 37 years ago, he was told it would never be easy dealing with death. But you come to terms with it by the fact you are there to help in any way you can.
Haddow said he was only too happy to help the legion with security by providing eight members for the event. The department also donated $500 to the family.
The chief noted that dealing with loss of life is something every firefighter has to be ready for. One minute you’re enjoying life, and the next you find yourself responding to a crisis; that’s what firefighters practice for.
Haddow said he attended the benefit partly to support Skaros because he knows what he is going through.
Haddow agreed educating children about fire safety is the key to saving lives and property.
“We keep driving this education home in schools, starting early. We remind them (the kids) every year, and I think we’re on the right track.”
Naomi Fraser from Osoyoos lost a child 30 years ago and wanted to attend the benefit to support the O’Connor family.
“You think about your child every day,” she said.
Ruth McDonald from Oliver said she couldn’t imagine dealing with the loss of a child, so she felt compelled to attend and support the family.
Performer Rusty Copeland was wearing two hats that day – one in the kitchen helping serve food and one on stage singing his heart out through Celtic music.
Copeland, a member of the Osoyoos Legion, said he really felt for the O’Connor family who need help getting back on their feet.
Niles said the benefit was “absolutely fantastic,” noting the entertainers gave their hearts to it.
She pointed out that Terri and Damon Bremner from Penticton donated all of the sound equipment for the event.
Niles also thanked the groups that donated money, including the small legion in Greenwood that made a substantial contribution.
“It blew us away,” Niles said.
Special to the Times