Beth and Dewayne Vinson, parents of D.J. Vinson, who drowned two years ago trying to save a child, say they are grateful for the community effort to place the memorial bench at Riverfront Park.
ALBANY -- The bench is made of granite and is built to endure for centuries. It's placement near the Flint River marks the occurrence of two tragic deaths -- one of them heroic -- and speaks of the caring nature of the community.
Now the parents of D.J. Vinson, who gave his life two years ago trying to save another, express their thanks to those who supported them in those early days of grief.
It started when Cindy Porter, mother of one of Vinson's friends, sent a letter to the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners requesting that a monument in the form of a stone bench be allowed on the Riverfront Park walkway near the section of the Flint river where Vinson and 11-year-old Joshua Perry drowned.
The commission approved Porter's request Sept. 13, 2010, but declined to provide funding for the costly monument. An opportunity for funding was presented during the International Festival, sponsored annually by the Albany Convention and Visitor's Bureau and coming up again in October as part of the city's first FlintFest.
Rashelle Beasley had the beginnings of the idea the day she met the Vinsons. She had arrived at her job at the CVB, newly located at the historic Bridge House on the Flint River.
"We weren't even opened yet," Beasley said. "We were moving our stuff in. Everybody was camped outside, and there were police and search-and-rescue people. Phyllis Banks with the police department asked if the Vinsons could come in away from the heat. It was the day D.J. Vinson was recovered from the Flint."
Later, when Beasley became aware of the plan to place the memorial bench, it struck her that the timing coincided perfect with the International Festival. It was Beasley's idea to get downtown merchants involved, to sell tickets and to raffle off a television to pay for the bench. Phil Cannon, a downtown attorney, had become aware of the effort and offered his help.
"I said 'Let's invite them (the Vinsons) to be a part of the festival,'" Cannon said. "Here is a young man who risked his life and lost it trying to save a child of another race -- a person he had never even met. Isn't that the theme of the International Festival? What is it we're trying to do in this community but to bring together races and cultures?'"
Beth and Dewayne Vinson were given their own space at the festival, and an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 attendees were given the opportunity to purchase tickets for a flat-screen Sony television.
"The tickets were placed in a special basket and spun around like bingo," Cannon said.
According to Cannon, the festival hadn't progressed far into the evening before it was clear that "the cause was doing quite well." At the end of the event, the winning ticket was held by Wilma Rivera.
"She was ecstatic," Beasley said.
The bench was placed in RiverFront park on May 4, 2011.
"It's beautiful," Beth Vinson said, "and we love it. D.J.'s father and all our family want to thank everyone involved with this. Especially we want to thank Cindy Porter and the Board of Commissioners, Rashelle Beasley, Phil Cannon and the Welcome Center. We want to thank the downtown merchants, too. Without all these people, none of this could have happened."
Inscribed on the polished granite bench are the words "In Loving Memory of D.J. Vinson Carnegie Hero -- 2010 Medal of Valor -- 2008 Citizen of the Year."
Above that inscription, mounted to the center of the bench back, is a bronze marker cast in the likeness of the Carnegie medal Vinson won last year. The Carnegie medal is awarded to those throughout the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
On the seat is inscribed the words "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Also inscribed are the names of Vinson and Joshua Perry, the 11-year-old boy who drowned that day.
In addition to the bench and the Carnegie medal, D.J. Vinson will be honored with his own "turtle" at RiverFront Park, Beasley said.
"Four of the turtles were taken to Albany Tech for sanding and prep," she said. "They're ready to be painted. One of them will be in a baseball uniform and will honor D.J. Vinson."