Tony Kowalski is known by many in town for his past service as a Monroe Fire Safety Police volunteer and as an ambulance driver for the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service. He also routinely met with friends at Bill's Drive-In on Monroe Turnpike. Kowalski has been in people's thoughts and prayers lately after having lost his grandson, Chase, 7, in the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
A prayer vigil for Chase is taking place today at Leo P. Gallagher & Son Funeral Home, 315 Monroe Turnpike, from 2 to 6 p.m.
Arnold DuBail of Monroe, who has been friends with Tony Kowalski for 40 years, said he and his wife will be going.
"Definitely," DuBail said. "My wife is recovering from cancer and I couldn't keep her away. She's coming with a walker. It's top priority right now. Just to let them know you're there. They're still in shock. It's a terrible thing."
The family asks mourners to leave the funeral home by 5:45 p.m., so they can have a few moments of privacy.
A shuttle service will be available in the Village Square shopping center parking lot on Route 111 (Monroe Turnpike).
Monroe Police Lt. Brian McCauley praised the generosity of Barbara Yeager, the Social Services and Monroe Senior Center director, for allowing the senior center bus and driver to be used for the shuttle service. He also expressed gratitude to Mike Lawlor, operations manager for All-Star Transportation's Monroe bus terminal, for lending a bus to the effort.
Overflow parking will be available at Sunshine Nursery, 288 Monroe Turnpike.
Monroe Fire Marshal Bill Davin, who is also chief of the Monroe Volunteer Fire Co., said the Stevenson Fire Co. will have a fire rescue truck outside the funeral home to provide light for police officers directing traffic and for mourners to cross the street safely when it gets darker.
Davin and fellow town firefighters knew Chase's grandfather, Tony Kowalski, through his service to the town.
"They're devastated," Davin said of the Kowalski family. "And out of respect, we're not letting our members call them. We're offering the family any assistance we can."
DuBail got to know Tony Kowalski decades ago when the UPS was on strike and Kowalski worked with him in construction. He said Kowalski is the type of guy who would help anybody. Now many want to help him and his family to cope with the loss of Chase.
"I can't get it off my mind," DuBail said. "When I heard it happened, the first thing I thought was, 'I just hope none of our friends were involved' — and friends or not, it's a tragedy. It's a shame. Then to hear one of the victims was his grandson ..."
DuBail said he's going to the vigil "just to be around him and be there and support him. There's nothing you can say. Sorry doesn't bring the little guy back."
DuBail just wants the Kowalski family to know that they're in everyone's prayers.
Three Boys Lost
By the end of the week, Monroe will have paid respects to three of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting.
On Monday, calling hours were held at Leo P. Gallagher & Son Funeral Home for James Mattioli, 6, and a wake and service will be held for Jesse Lewis, 6, at Beacon Hill Church in Monroe on Thursday.
A Monroe woman, who asked not to be identified, has friends in Sandy Hook and attended some of the services for the children.
While talking to two parents whose kids went to daycare and had play dates with James Mattioli, she said James was described as a happy kid, very lively, who loved the outdoors and was very witty.
"James loved to swim," she said. "He just loved the water, absolutely loved the water. He loved music and was very creative."
Two other friends going to the prayer vigil for Chase today have known the boy since daycare. They described him as a "very happy kid, who loved to draw. When he was at the daycare, he was always smiling. His smile lit up the room. And he always had creative, funny comebacks."
"He just loved going to school, absolutely loved it," the Monroe woman said of Chase. "He loved his friends and loved to play."
She said the friends of Chase and James are missing them.
News reports of Jesse Lewis tell of his love of horses and his ability to make people laugh.
Having attended several of the services, the Monroe woman said, "The remarkable thing is the parents are being very brave and strong and have been comforting the people who have come to comfort them."