eNews: Memorial Service for Fallen Firefighters

April 30, 2013

To the Baylor Family:

West Memorial ServiceThe tragic events in the nearby town of West, Texas have deeply impacted and saddened the Baylor community. At the same time, they have called forth a powerful demonstration of the Christian mission and character of this great University. Through acts of service, sacrifice and generosity, the Baylor family both near and far have responded actively and compassionately to this terrible tragedy. As a result, we have demonstrated to our neighbors in West, and to the nation, the very essence of Baylor University.

Last Thursday, we were honored to host on our campus a memorial service for the fallen heroes. President Obama, Senator Cornyn, Governor Perry and President Starr brought remarks to comfort all those assembled in the Ferrell Center and, especially, the families who lost loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice battling the fire and explosion in West. We are grateful to the numerous Baylor staff and offices who worked tirelessly, and on a very tight schedule, to accommodate the needs of all our guests and ensure a meaningful ceremony.

Many have asked that we share with the Baylor community President Starr's remarks from the memorial service. We are, therefore, including a copy of his text here, along with a gallery of photos that commemorate the solemn and beautiful processional and memorial service on our campus. Hundreds of news organizations worldwide have reported on Baylor's response to the tragedy in West and the memorial service we were privileged to host. We are also including herewith, and for your information, a selection of those news stories available at www.baylor.edu/newsclips/west.

Baylor continues to receive financial gifts in support of its relief fund for West. If you are interested in contributing to this effort, please visit www.baylor.edu/relief/give.

President Ken Starr’s Remarks - April 25, 2013

Mr. President, and America’s First Lady, Governor Perry, Senator Cornyn, Congressman Flores, Lt. Governor Dewhurst, Attorney General Abbott, Senator Birdwell, Representative Kacal, Mayor Duncan, Mayor Muska of West, other distinguished officials — and thousands of first responders from across America here to honor our fallen heroes.

And the dear families of West. You honor us with your presence.

Welcome to Baylor University -- older than the State of Texas itself. The State that beckoned thousands of men and women from the beautiful land of Moravia — in what we today call the Czech Republic — to the rich soil — and freedom — of Central Texas.

We gather this afternoon in the Paul J. Meyer Arena as a community of neighbors. On most days, this great arena is a site of joyful commencement exercises, vigorous competition and exuberant celebration of victories won and championships earned. Just two nights ago, we filled this arena to say thank you to Coach Kim Mulkey and our beloved Lady Bears. But today is a day of remembrance and tribute.

We remember these courageous firefighters, our neighbors, who have fallen.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Scripture teaches us about what it means to be a neighbor. In that spirit, neighbors are working together to rebuild a community — like those hardy families of Czech immigrants, who came so long ago to build a beautiful community called West.

America’s great Poet Laureate of yesteryear, Robert Frost, wrote that good fences make good neighbors. But today, there are no fences. From Baylor and Waco here on the banks of the Brazos River, northward through Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview, through Elm Mott and Ross, over to Abbott — and up to West itself — we all stand together as neighbors, arm in arm, undivided by space and united by the goodness of all those who have already answered the call — as volunteers — to bring help through gifts of time, of talent, and of treasure.

Neighbor. What a powerful word. It’s captured beautifully in a little book that we here in Waco read together in community this past fall. One Book, One Waco. The book: Where Dreams Die Hard. It’s about a little town near here called Penelope. When folks would ask, “where’s Penelope?” The response would be: “we’re east of West.” Above all, it’s a book about neighbors caring for one another.

Here at Baylor, we all know and love our neighboring community called West. We know its special places. The quaint town center. The Village Bakery. The Little Czech Bakery. Travelers on Interstate 35 know the Czech Inn. They know to drop by the Czech Stop to buy kolaches for friends and neighbors. And we all love visiting “West Fest” over Labor Day Weekend.

This is our community. It’s a place of volunteers, who come alongside those who are hurting, and who lend a helping hand.

This is at the heart of what we strive to be and to do here at Baylor. To draw from the illustrious poet laureate of yesteryear, as good neighbors, we are already helping to rebuild the walls. We are already helping to repair the fences.

But we cannot restore these precious lives — of volunteer firefighters and two other neighbors who made the ultimate sacrifice. We pay tribute to their memory; we offer them our thanks and our respect; and we salute these families, who can rest assured that the outpouring of neighborly love from the Baylor family will continue.

Welcome — on this day of remembrance — to Baylor University.

* * * *

It’s now my great privilege to read a statement from President George W. Bush, who regrets that he is unable to be with us this afternoon:

Today we dedicated the new George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. We are sad that we cannot be with you for this memorial service. We send our heartfelt sympathies to the citizens of West. All who are suffering are in our thoughts and prayers. Stay strong, and may God bless you.

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