Tragedies are shared experiences. Families, friends, acquaintances and strangers are connected by a common loss, a common grief. A tragedy grounds people in place and time; the sights, sounds, feelings, and impressions experienced at the moment a loss is realized are vivid and unforgettable. Everybody who knew Tommy Bock remembers where they were and what they were doing when the 15-year-old Hardyston youth died of injuries sustained in a skateboarding accident the day before.
The outpouring of grief for Tommy came in tsunami-like waves, crashing through Vernon, Wantage, Sparta, Franklin, and beyond. Across Sussex County, everybody seemed to know Tommy; everyone seemed to have a memory, a bond, an experience with this young man that left their lives somehow brighter. In the wake of his passing, the devastation was profound.
A picture of Tommy circulated rapidly on social media, captivating and affecting hundreds who never knew Tommy in life, but seemed to instinctively understand the tragedy of his loss. In the iconic picture, Tommy stands against a nondescript blue background in his football jersey, face dominated by an exuberant smile that radiates from the glossy portrait photo. Absolute strangers faced with this image see the essence of Tommy Bock: a vibrant, gregarious young man who seized life with a daredevil’s zeal and could illuminate any room with a smile. Absolute strangers see the light that Tommy brought to this world and feel the keen absence of it.
“Here’s an individual who brought 5,000 people together,” says Hamburg resident John Conklin, referring to the county-wide mourning that followed Tommy’s passing. “He’s extraordinary.” The need for a public totem to commemorate Tommy Bock was realized by John’s daughter, Hannah Conklin, who spent the summer coming to terms with the loss of her best friend. Hannah and her friends felt the severe absence of one beloved member in their group, but there was nowhere they could go to mourn him. “We would sit in my basement talking about the times we had with Tommy,” Hannah recalls, “but I wished there was a place we could go to remember him. That’s what I told my Mom. We came up with the idea of a bench in the park just for Tommy and all the people who miss him.”
John Conklin had plans drawn up for a memorial bench in Wheatsworth Field in Hardyston with the blessing of Tommy’s parents. “I approached Steve and Tim at TJ’s Pizza with the idea because of their background in fundraising for the area,” says Conklin, “they immediately pledged an opening $300 and offered to help with the fundraiser’s messaging and set-up.” He then brought plans for a park bench memorial before the Hardyston Township Council at the County Board Meeting on January 24th, and was elated with the positive response. “I remember when the Mayor said ‘you have my vote,’” John Conklin recalls his relief at that moment, “That’s when I knew this was going to happen.”
All involved hope to have the memorial bench installed in Wheatsworth Field this Spring, before the anniversary of Tommy’s passing. Donations will create a place for Sussex communities to mourn a tragic loss and remember an extraordinary young man.
DonationsSee top donations
- Karen Stern
- The Lutkins Family
- Christine Tillery
- Monica Hahn
- Michele Kansky
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