Laughing away sorrow Benefit recalled Gloucester City fire victims.

Posted: July 26, 2002

RUNNEMEDE — They had learned the hard lessons of funerals and public grief.

Last night, they laughed.

In a darkened, smoky corner of the Holiday Inn in Runnemede, 150 people shook off the tragedy of a deadly house fire in Gloucester City at a comedy benefit born of a sense of helplessness.

On July 4, Albert Trevelise laid his head down and wept as the terrible news blared out of the television: three firefighters dead, three little girls gone.

"He was crying at the dinner table, saying, 'I feel so helpless,' " said Steve Trevelise, who sat that day with his 80-year-old father, a retired Union City firefighter.

The younger Trevelise had grown up playing outside the Union City firehouse. He did his best to comfort his father, a man who, he said, never felt right about the medals he earned for fighting a long-ago blaze that claimed his two best friends.

And like so many who never knew Jimmy Sylvester, John West, Tommy Stewart, or the little Slack sisters, Alexandra, Claudia and Coletta, Steve Trevelise was moved to help.

In the weeks since that eight-alarm house fire, benefits for those affected have been planned in halls and restaurants, schools and bars across the region by sports stars and disc jockeys, firefighters and teenagers.

Steve Trevelise, morning traffic reporter for WLCE-FM (Alice 104.5), organized a night of comedy for those who have heard precious little laughter since the fire killed Sylvester, Mount Ephraim's fire chief; West, Mount Ephraim's deputy chief; and Stewart, a Gloucester City firefighter.

Word of the benefit at the Comedy Cabaret in Runnemede got out quickly.

"It hit a nerve with the comedy community," Trevelise said. "Once the word got out, everybody wanted to be on the roster. We were turning people away."

Standing by the bar last night, surveying the crowded room, he said he was gratified by the turnout.

"They've been depressed for three weeks," he said of the people there. "This is a release. It's OK to laugh, exhale a bit."

Blackwood resident Irene Boucher agreed. She said she had finally decided it was OK to be happy.

"This has been heartbreaking, so we need a night like this," she said.

Then Trevelise jumped up on the stage, asking for a hand for "Chief Jim Sylvester, Deputy Chief John West and Thomas G. Stuart 3d."

After that, the audience swallowed the lumps in their throats and roared at the one about the wedding of the Irish woman and the Italian guy.

In Media and Fairless Hills, Voorhees and Cherry Hill, people with and without direct ties to the tragedy are channeling their grief similarly.

This week, professional athletes played a benefit softball game. On Sunday, a bar with ties to the Stewart family will offer a beef-and-beer. On Thursday, the Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club in Gloucester City will get into the act, donating part of its profits to the firefighters' memorial fund.

Margie Treston understands why. These days, her life is tied up in having tickets printed, sorting out donated food, and going through letters and checks sent to her home in Wallingford, Delaware County.

Treston's brother is Frank Slack, father of the 6-year-old and the 3-year-old twins who died in the fire, so keeping busy is about all she can do.

"It's really hard to sit back and do nothing," Treston said, "so you do something."

For Pat Bohn, manager of Connie Mac's Irish Pub in Pennsauken, something has gained the sort of support she could not have imagined. When she began organizing a beef-and-beer for the firefighters' families, suppliers called her right and left, offering food, drink and help to the restaurant, where Stewart's fiancee, Danielle Ruggierio, once worked.

And the goods for the restaurant's Chinese auction - golf outings, sunglasses, fleece jackets - poured in.

"One of my waitresses," Bohn said with a laugh, "has a spare bedroom full of prizes."

Ryan Cass, a 13-year-old who attends St. Rose of Lima School in Haddon Heights, said he was excited by all the enthusiasm for a chip-and-putt golf outing he is putting together. But mostly, he is keeping his eye on the big picture.

"A lot of families lost their dads," Cass said. "That's really hard."

Contact Kristen Graham at 856-779-3927 or kgraham@phillynews.com.

More on How to Help

The July 4 fire that killed three firefighters and three girls in Gloucester City has inspired these benefit events:

Sunday, 6 to 8 p.m., Connie Mac's Irish Pub, Route 130, Pennsauken: beef-and-beer with Chinese auction. Tickets are $20 for all you can eat and drink; they should be purchased in advance. Information: 856-910-1255.

Thursday, 7 p.m., Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club, Route 130, Gloucester City: $5 cover charge and cash bar. Information: 856-456-6888.

Next Friday, 7 to 9 p.m., Oh!Hara's Irish Pub, King Street, Gloucester City: block party. The $15 cover charge includes food and live music. Information: 856-456-2104.

Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m., Conwell-Egan High School, Fairless Hills: beef-and-beer and Chinese auction to benefit Teresa Crusemire and Ed Deniken, the newlyweds whose home was destroyed in the fire. Tickets are $25. Tickets: Linda Trott at 215-338-2985.

Aug. 10, 7 to 11 p.m., Mount Ephraim fire department, Bell Road Station: crabs and beer. Tickets are $20. Tickets: 856-931-1443.

Aug. 13, 7 to 9 p.m., Coastline Restaurant, Brace Road, Cherry Hill: buffet. The $10 charge covers all you can eat and drink. Information: 856-795-1773.

Aug. 17, noon, Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, Burlington Street, Gloucester City: benefit. The $10 tickets include food, drink, bands and a DJ. Tickets: 856-456-7135.

Aug. 24, 8 p.m. to midnight, Media Fire Department, Jackson and Front Streets, Media: beef-and-beer. The $25 tickets include bands, food and drink. Tickets: Margie Treston at 610-891-6928.

Aug. 28, noon, Chip & Putt, Golf Land, Haddonfield-Berlin Road, Voorhees: $10 fee. All ages are welcome. Information: Ryan Cass at 856-547-8637.

If you know of a benefit not listed here, please e-mail details to kgraham@phillynews.com or call 856-779-3927.

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