WEIRTON - Seven years after his death, the family of Aaron Davies finds comfort in the fact that he hasn't been forgotten.
Davies was in the seventh grade when he was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, and just 16 when it claimed his life a little more than three years later in 2005.
In the years since, the community has banded together behind various projects that have kept his memory alive - a playground that now bears his name on Terrace Heights, blood drives, a scholarship and even a golf tournament.
The family of the late Aaron Davies, a Weir High student who lost his battle against a rare pancreatic cancer in 2005, recently distributed funds donated in his name to area groups that help the less fortunate. Among the groups benefiting from the donations were Kelsey’s Christmas, the Boys & Girls Club, Athena’s Closet and Never Alone WV. On hand for the presentation, from left, were Kelsey Andrews, founder of Kelsey’s Christmas for young cancer patients; Adam, Connie and Chip Davies; George Vargo, representing the Boys & Girls Club of Weirton; Maria Kiefer, representing Athena’s Closet; and Patti Barnabei, Never Alone WV. -- Linda Harris
Ward 6 Councilman Dave Dalrymple, a Davies family friend and neighbor, credits the efforts of countless volunteers as well as donations of supplies and manpower by James White Construction, Sherwin-Williams, Weirton Rental, Carl Kelly Paving, the former Red Rider Mart and Magnone Construction with transforming a rusting, underutilized play site into a neat, well-maintained reminder of Davies' legacy.
"He was looked up to by many young people and admired and loved by all," his father, Chip, writes. "Hence the playground, his scholarship, his first golf tourney, which was so successful. People came in from everywhere to support such a wonderful cause. The really amazing thing was that it was held on a Monday and everyone took off work."
The tournament was the brainchild of Jason Smoljanovich, the Williams Country Club pro and a Davies family friend.
Smoljanovich had played basketball with Aaron's older brother, Adam Davies, and his father had worked with Chip in the mill. Before his death three years ago, he said his father told his family he wanted memorial contributions directed to the Aaron Davies Fund.
Smoljanovich saw it as a natural fit.
"I called Chip one day and said I wanted to have a golf tournament," Smoljanovich said. "He was pretty excited, he said he'd always wanted to have one but wasn't sure how to go about it."
He said it wasn't hard to fill the field. "We had 144 players, which was 36 foursomes, so it was a full field," he said. "We had 144 golfers signed up probably a month before the tournament even took place. A lot of people took the day off."
"I can't remember exactly, but we raised (a lot of money)," Smoljanovich said. "It really was a spectacular day."
In addition to the Smoljanovich's, the families of the late Frank Battista, Mary Anne Bissett, Joe Mancuso and Tony Ruszkowski directed funeral contributions to the Aaron Davies fund.
"I can't thank everyone enough who took time off to attend the golf tournament, and how generous my friends, old and new, continue to be since Aaron's death," Chip Davies said. "Everything our community and surrounding communities have done is totally awe-inspiring, and that includes friends who came in from other states to honor our son Aaron and our family."
Recently, the Davies family decided to "pay it forward" - distributing a big chunk of the money that's been contributed to Aaron's fund to other organizations that help unfortunate children and adults throughout the community, including:
Never Alone WV, a nonprofit organization formed by community residents seeking to raise awareness of addiction problems in the community.
Athena's Closet, founded in the memory of Athena Ameredes, who died of cancer. The organization raises money to assist cancer patients with many of the expenses not normally covered by insurance.
The Boys & Girl's Club, which seeks to build character and leadership in youngsters while fostering health and life skills as well as education and career goals and physical activity.
Kelsey's Christmas, organized by Kelsey Andrews in memory of her older sister, Kristin, a Weir High senior who lost her battle with cancer in 2007. Each year Kelsey and friends deliver things like pajamas, slippers and toys to cancer patients at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.
The Lighthouse, a domestic violence awareness program.
Davies said they'll also be presenting checks in the near future to WV Legends, Table of Hope and Weirton Christian Center, and plan distributions to other groups after the first of the year.
Donations may be made to the Aaron Davies Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 31, Weirton, WV 26062.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)