Morgan Frisch/Recorder staff From left, David Stearns, Amy Weaver Stearns and Deanna “Dee” Anthony. David and Anthony hold up items for sale in memory of Madeline Jean Barton, the Stearns’ daughter. Amy Stearns holds a photograph of her family.
By MORGAN FRISCH
Recorder News Staff
HAGAMAN— Amy Stearns said she smiles when she spots pink, sparkly bows on the homes of perfect strangers.
The bows are for her daughter, Madeline Jean Barton, who passed away Wednesday due to influenza, encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.
The 11-year-old from Hagaman and Naples, N.Y., was perfectly healthy before getting the virus and even had the flu shot in September. Stearns said the shot doesn’t cover all strains.
Madeline was a sixth-grader at Naples Central School and spent the weekends in the village with her mother, step-father, David, and brother, Caiden. Her father, Thaddeus Barton, lives in Naples.
“It’s not even about the money,” Stearns said of the ribbon fundraiser. “It’s about remembering her and painting the town pink.”
The pink bows started as an effort to support the Stearns’ family when they returned home to Hagaman after the passing of their daughter.
Deanna “Dee” Anthony’s husband serves on the Hagaman Volunteer Fire Department with David Stearns. When she heard the news, she decided the family couldn’t come home to a dark and empty house. Anthony, who was a florist and good at making bows, wanted to decorate the Stearns’ porch.
She contacted wives in the fire department and before she knew it, 30 people were at her assistance. They wrote well wishes, tied ribbons and placed spotlights in the yard so the display would be visible in the dark.
Stearns, who has lived in Hagaman since 1979, had no idea what the community had done until they arrived that night.
“My husband’s like, look at our house,” she said. “We looked up and we were speechless and all I could do was cry.”
Stearns called her mother asking her to come to the house right away.
“She got here and me and my dad and my mom and husband just sat out front and we held each other and cried,” Stearns said.
Anthony had no idea how many people would come together to help her. They are continuing to make bows and sell them in an effort to raise money for the Stearns’ medical expenses.
Anthony said $3,000 has already been raised, which has “completely exceeded any expectation.”
“Everybody has just been so amazing,” she said.
Bows have been shipped all over the country and businesses in the community have had them delivered or asked where they can be purchased. Facebook has been used to spread the word. Approximately 250 bows have been sold at $5 each and all other proceeds were donations.
“We bought out every craft store within a 20 mile radius,” Anthony said. “They have no pink ribbon.”
Dave Stearns has been on the fire department for seven years. One of his friends, who’s also in the department, created car stickers in memory of his daughter.
David Stearns said he thought the sticker was just for him, but realized he made enough to sell along with the bows. He wasn’t surprised by the support of his fellow volunteers.
“We are not just firefighters,” he said. “We are family.”
He said the Amsterdam Police Department will also put up a sticker in memory of his daughter and the groups are like a “brotherhood.”
“It’s like being a part of the biggest family in the world,” he said.
Anthony said she had no idea her choice to use sparkles was a perfect way to remember Barton.
Amy Stearns described her daughter’s personality as “huge,” “quirky” and “unique.” She loved to dance, read, play music and spend time with her grandparents. Madeline also loved to cook and volunteered at the Hagaman block party in the summer
“She loved hugging,” Amy Stearns said. “She was the best hugger.”
She said Madeline was the fourth generation to grow up in Hagaman and Stearns’s grandfather, brothers and uncles volunteered with the fire department.
“She would be proud because of the close-knit community,” Amy Stearns said. “She flourished in a small town.”
Although she couldn’t pick a favorite, Amy Stearns described a memory of her daughter putting on fashion shows and dressing up her little brother. Madeline would use dresses her grandmother purchased at garage sales to put on the shows.
“She would come down the stairs like a runway and they would pose and pout and smile and go through all the outfits and different styles and pretend they were in Paris,” Stearns said.
Madeline liked mismatched clothes, leopard print and polka dots, but also liked to play in the mud with the boys.
“She sparkled,” Amy Stearns said.
Anyone interested in purchasing a bow or car sticker can contact the Hagaman Volunteer Fire Department at 518-842-3641. The family would also like donations sent to the University of Rochester, Strong Memorial Hospital Foundation, or to the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester.