CAPE MAY - Bonnie Deems picked up the small ceramic rabbit she placed at the Cape May County Fisherman's Memorial several Easters ago, right below where her son's name is etched in granite.
Ronald Deems Jr. died in Buzzards Bay when the clamming vessel Gulf Air sank April 30, 1993, as it was heading to New Bedford, Mass., with a load of ocean quahogs.
Deems was only 21. His body was never found.
So Bonnie Deems, a Middle Township resident, stops by the stone memorial here overlooking Cape May Harbor every time she is in town.
"There is no grave, but this is a place you can go to look out on the water and remember," Deems said.
The memorial features a statue of a fisherman's wife and her two children looking out to sea, inside a giant compass. An inscription states: "He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze and the billows of the sea were stalled."
Deems was not surprised the rabbit was still there. Even though the memorial faces strong east northeast winds, many keepsakes from loved ones remain here for a long time. It has always amazed her. There are figurines, ribbons, flowers, American flags, hats the fishermen wore, driftwood, fishing line, sea shells and other keepsakes.
"I put the rabbit here three Easters ago. It's still here. Nothing ever leaves," Deems said.
There could be more keepsakes soon. A fresh tragedy, the March 24 sinking of the Lady Mary, has taken six more fishermen.
The sinking also has revived interest in the memorial erected over the harbor in 1988. That's why Deems was here Tuesday night. Before visiting the memorial with her sister, Lori Girard, she attended the second meeting of a group called Friends of the Cape May Fisherman's Memorial Committee.
Many of the original organizers of the memorial have died or are now too old to care for the small park. There is an effort to revive interest by forming the new committee, and even expand the original goals of maintaining the site by starting a scholarship program for the children of the survivors.
The six victims in the Lady Mary tragedy left behind at least 11 children. Although organizers were disappointed none of the Lady Mary families showed up Tuesday night, they said they will press on with their plans.
"My son had no children. I'd love to see a scholarship program. There are a lot of children. We have to get some family members involved," Deems said.
Ronald Deems started fishing at the age of 14. Deems said he even contributed money to get the memorial constructed.
The committee already has a landscaper from a fishing family, Thomas McNulty, who is willing to help maintain the grounds of the memorial for free. There is money in an old fund that will be used to etch the six new names in the granite, including those of Royal Smith, Timothy Smith, Tarzon Smith, Frank Credle, Frank Reyes, and Jorge Ramos.
They will join 69 other names, starting with Andrew Jeffers, who died in 1893, to Jonathan VanHook, who perished in 2003 in a boat fire.
Gretchen Ferrante, of The Nature Center of Cape May, is working to organize a blessing of the waters and a memorial service for the fishermen at the annual Harborfest celebration at 7 p.m. June 19 at the memorial. The main Harborfest events are June 20. The service will include reading the names of all the men on the memorial.
The one thing missing is much input from fishing families. The committee has reached out to family members with little response.
E-mail Richard Degener:
If you go
The first major event for the new Friends of the Cape May Fisherman's Memorial Committee will be a blessing of the waters and a memorial ceremony with a Coast Guard band at 7 p.m. June 19 on Missouri Avenue.