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Fallen Sunnyside fireman honored with tree planting

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But by the end of a brief ceremony last Thursday morning, a tree dedicated to the memory of Firefighter Michael Brennan had blossomed...

By Dustin Brown

Spring had hardly begun, and the branches of the newly planted sapling sat naked in the still air of Long Island City.

But by the end of a brief ceremony last Thursday morning, a tree dedicated to the memory of Firefighter Michael Brennan had blossomed with more than 100 ribbons tied around its branches by those who had gathered to honor the Sept. 11 hero from Sunnyside.

It was a sign of life exactly seven months after Brennan’s untimely death at the age of 27.

“It’s in the darkness of the earth that life springs forward,” Rabbi Robert Kaplan said during the dedication. “From darkness can come light.”

Brennan, a six-year veteran of the Fire Department, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center along with 14 other firefighters from his company, Ladder 4 in Midtown Manhattan.

His tree was planted on 47th Avenue slightly west of 30th Place, along the perimeter of a community garden that has slowly been taking root since 1996 in an industrial part of Long Island City where offices and schools are becoming more common.

“Today it’s clear that we are putting community into a community garden and putting public into a public space,” said Noah Kaufman, the garden manager. “The expression of our public losses and public triumphs must be marked in public spaces.”

The planting was sponsored by Robert F. Wagner Jr. Secondary School for Arts and Technology, which sits less than a block from the garden in a converted warehouse.

The garden is a small partitioned slice of the empty lot along 30th Place owned by Public Storage. Although an array of flowers has blossomed from small planting boxes set along the chain-link fence on 47th Avenue, much of the plot is still a work in progress, covered in dirt and gardening tools.

But the school has created an association of gardeners, educators, students and workers called LIC Roots, which aims to tend the garden and transform it into a welcoming open space where people can congregate and escape the gritty industrial feel of Long Island City.

“We really want you to feel that this garden, though it commemorates Michael, represents the community,” said Terry Born, the principal at Wagner.

Brennan’s mother, Eileen Walsh, is a secretary at the school, where she said the students “have been an inspiration for all of us working there.”

“This was bigger and better than I thought,” Walsh said. “I didn’t expect such a big, ceremonial event.”

Another of her sons, Brian Brennan, expressed the family’s appreciation for the support of the many who thronged along the edge of 47th Avenue for the ceremony.

“It certainly helps the healing process to know that so many people have come together to make this day possible,” he said.

Before he performed a rendition of “Danny Boy” in Brennan’s memory, singer Ronaldo Vega asked everyone present to repeat Brennan’s name aloud in a somber chorus.

“Now he’s a part of your life, he’s in your memory banks. Do something good in his memory,” he said “And when they thank you, say, ‘Don’t thank me — thank Michael E. Brennan.’ ”

Dorcas Carlo, a sophomore at Wagner from Elmhurst, described the garden as “a glorious and magnificent area that will be available for everyone.”

“I’m sure as the butterflies dance and the flowers begin to bloom,” she continued, “Michael’s spirit will join in and accompany Mother Nature with his essence.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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