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A memorial to remember

April 11, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT Bureau of Innovations

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Secretary Leslie S. Richards presided over a day of emotion, remembrance, and honor on April 10 when she hosted a series of events in honor of Work Zone Awareness Week, highlighted by the unveiling of a new Workers' Memorial.

Prior to its dedication, the secretary held a news conference with the traveling Workers' Memorial as a backdrop featuring Pennsylvania's brightest high school students who were in Harrisburg presenting their work zone safety solutions as part of PennDOT's Innovations Challenge statewide judging event.

RELATED: PennDOT honors fallen with worker memorial logo

"We are starting a new construction season," Richards said at the memorial event. She noted that motorists will see more orange barrels, but "too often that means hazards for the men and women delivering those benefits."

Delivering a poignant, heartbreaking message, Melissa "Missy" Gensimore recounted the aftermath of her husband Bobby's death last year when he was hit while placing flares on Interstate 99 during a snow storm.

"I had to call my children and tell them Dad was gone," she said. "Our lives were shattered, and I had to learn to adapt and continue on."

She noted how her husband, a PennDOT foreman and also a volunteer firefighter and first responder, was considered "Mr. Safety."

"He was always in the line of trouble, and he took precautions to make sure nothing happened to anybody else."

She said she relies on both her immediate family and her PennDOT family and advocates for work zone safety, so everybody remains safe. Her daughter, Grace, accompanied her.

"I want everybody to be safe because I don't want another family to go through what we have been through this past year because it is hell," she said. "But you have to keep going, to keep saying the message, and keep driving it home to people you have to be safe in work zones because these people have families that they need to come home to." 

Even a year later, she added, "I still expect him to walk through the door."

Her comments were highlighted in the television news coverage and PennDOT social media posts following the event.

RELATED: New laws encourage motorists to slow down in work zones

Richards presented Mrs. Gensimore with the first Workers' Memorial pin featuring the newly designed fallen PennDOT worker logo and said to her that she was inspired by her strength. PennDOT employees can purchase their own Worker's Memorial pin by donating to the PennDOT Employees Association's Catastrophic Fund via the PennDOT Employee Association's website.

"I made a promise to you that Bobby's legacy will have meaning and help others as well," the secretary said.

In unveiling the new permanent Worker's Memorial for the Keystone Building atrium, Richards noted the building's employees will see it every day.

The back wall of the glass enclosed booth features a large photo of the traveling Workers' Memorial. A replica of one of the individual memorials is in the middle of the booth. A television monitor plays a continual loop of photos and details of each of the workers who lost their lives while on the job at PennDOT.

Somerset High School senior and Innovations Challenge participant Benjamin Geary was moved by seeing the traveling Workers' Memorial.

"All the crosses, it's just kind of mind blowing that that many people passed away because of drivers in work zones," he said.

"We have lost five employees during my time at PennDOT," Richards said. "Losing team members and meeting their families impacts me greatly. This new memorial invokes the spirit of the traveling memorial."

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