By Patrick McArdle
A new series of purple benches has been installed in the city in memory of a teenager who was killed by an impaired driver on Sept. 26, 2012, and the project has brought some optimism but also some reminders of the challenges that remain in Rutland.
Carly Ferro was 17 when she was killed on Sept. 26, 2012, as she was getting into her father’s car after leaving work at the Cleveland Avenue Discount Foods and Liquidation Center. The driver who hit Ferro, who is currently serving 10 to 20 years in prison, was “huffing” aerosol inhalants at the time.
Ferro’s mother, Ellen Miller; Miller’s wife, Penny Lienhardt; and Ferro’s brother, Sam Ferro, formed the Purple Angel Foundation. The color was Carly Ferro’s favorite and the foundation uses a favorite saying of Carly Ferro’s, “Be kinder than necessary,” as a slogan.
Working with the city, the Purple Angel Foundation intended to place purple benches in several city parks, but after the first was installed in Meadow Park in October 2014, the plan saw a lull of several years.
“The purple benches, I think, are more of a symbol of kindness and trying to keep Carly’s memory, through the city, of giving back to the city in a kind and gentle way and that we’re not going to accept any kind of evil or poor behaviors or things like that,” Miller said.
After the first bench was installed, Miller said she was told by then-mayor Chris Louras and then-police chief Jim Baker that they had concerns because the benches in city parks, like the Depot Street park, were attracting unwanted activity.
Last week, however, the installation of the purple benches began again, along with the mini-libraries stocked with childrens’ books which were designed to encourage children and families to visit the parks and use them in positive ways.
Cindi Wight, commissioner of the Rutland Recreation and Parks Department, said the installation of the benches was one of the things Louras had worked on before leaving office. She said there was hope the people of Rutland might show more respect for the benches and their purpose because of the affection people have for Ferro.
“Now it’s bringing the benches back —but bringing our purple benches back — which are special benches in memory of Carly,” she said.
However, last week also saw someone vandalize and then steal the mini-library in Meadow Street Park. Wight said the library was found and staff from the rec department was working to repair it so it can be reinstalled.
Miller said it’s been hard not to take the vandalism and theft personally, although she said she suspected the vandals were being thoughtless rather than trying to send a message to Ferro or her loved ones.
“What would be the purpose of taking children’s books that are just there to help kids for free? There’s no reason why anybody would purposely want to say, ‘Oh, I don’t think kids should be getting free books,’” she said.
While Miller called the destructive actions “disheartening,” she was encouraged to see how strongly people reacted when she posted the news to social media, where people suggested installing cameras or taking other action to catch the vandals.
She said she also heard from Bob Peterson, from the rec department, who said the staff was determined they “will not let this evil win” and the staff vowed to prevent what they can and repair what they can’t.
Mayor David Allaire has also reached out to the Purple Angel Foundation to offer support, according to Miller.
Seeing the city’s response and learning that Ferro’s motto, “Be kinder than necessary,” was prominently mentioned at this year’s Rutland High School commencement has also been helpful.
“To see this around the city, as difficult as it is as a reminder, it’s also really nice to know that people haven’t forgotten,” Miller said.
Ferro’ death was also one of the catalysts that resulted in the creation of Rutland’s Project Vision, a community-based partnership that works to combat the challenges posed by drug addiction and substance abuse.
People who want to help can make donations or provide childrens’ books to the Purple Angel Foundation, a community-based nonprofit. Miller also encouraged Rutlanders to self-patrol the areas around the benches and the mini-libraries and model good behavior and safety.
It won’t be long before a group of friends joins Miller for the annual September tradition of putting up purple ribbons around the city to remember Ferro.
“She was an integral part of the city. She was one of the good guys and she will not be forgotten,” Miller said.
According to Wight, the city has an additional purple bench to install, although no final decision has been made about where it will be located.
The Purple Angel Foundation can be found online at www.purpleangelfoundation.org or on Facebook.