Families, artists reunite to celebrate lives of fallen heroes

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 6/17/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Artists, partners, mothers and wives came together at the beautiful fallen hero’s memorial to celebrate a small, but special, event last Monday.

The mural was unveiled in …

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Families, artists reunite to celebrate lives of fallen heroes

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Artists, partners, mothers and wives came together at the beautiful fallen hero’s memorial to celebrate a small, but special, event last Monday.

The mural was unveiled in Green Cove Springs on the side of a building on Palmer Street off U.S. Highway 17. Rusty Cheney gave artists access to the side of the building just a few months ago, and their work has been praised by many. It’s one part a memorial for three people – a firefighter, a soldier and a police officer – who made the ultimate sacrifice and one part a beautiful memorial that’s impossible to miss when in the city.

“We knew [Sheila Russell, the mother of Sgt. Bradley Crose who is pictured in the center of the mural] was coming to town and we wanted to do something special for her and everyone involved,” St. Michael’s Soldiers co-founder and vice president Jim Signorile said.

Signorile is one of the people behind the mural. He and his wife, Kathy, helped put together the event and they helped gather everyone involved with the mural. Signorile handed out commemorative plaques and shared a few words about how incredible it was that so many people could come together to create such a significant piece of art.

“We are so thankful to everyone here,” Kim Signorile said. “We are so thankful to our first responders and our soldiers. They’ve got the biggest hearts and the three pictured here made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Sophie Dare Dentiste is one of the lead artists, which utilized nearly a dozen local artists. She said the event meant a lot to her. Russell had seen the mural before, but she has since moved to North Carolina and doesn’t get to see it as often.

Dentiste said it’s amazing to hear about the impact her art has had on the community and the people like Russell who serves as inspiration for the project. Dentiste also is the artist behind the colorful flora and fauna mural painted on a building on the other side of U.S. Highway 17 in Green Cove Springs. 

Russell was at the presentation to accept a plaque on behalf of her son, Crose, who made the ultimate sacrifice on March 4, 2002, as a U.S. Army soldier. She was joined by Tonya McKay, the widow of Clay County firefighter Jeremy McKay, whose last alarm was on Nov. 27, 2019. McKay died of cancer. The two of them were honored by Monday’s ceremony.

“Me and our kids still drive by often and blow him a kiss,” McKay said. “It means the world that he’s forever memorialized here.”

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office deputy depicted in the mural is Ben Zirbel, who died from injuries sustained during a 2018 crash while he was riding his motorcycle on patrol on Blanding Boulevard.

Russell said when she lived in town, she’d park across from the mural and just sit with it, taking it in. The two of them spoke to the character of the loved one they lost. They both laughed at how they learned of Crose’s and McKay’s many commendations and awards after they died.

“That’s the kind of people they were,” Russell said. “They were incredibly humbled. Bradley would’ve said ‘no’ to a mural like this because of how humble he was, but he’s so deserving.”

McKay said her husband kept all kinds of awards and badges in his nightstand drawer, but he never spoke of them.

“That’s not what it was about for him,” she said. “It was about saving lives.”

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