Volume 74, Number 55 | May 25 - 31 , 2005

Villager photo by Q. Sakamaki

Schoolmates of Celia Rose Fitzgerald swam laps to raise money for a scholarship fund in her memory.

A sea of swimmers for CeCe P.S. 41 scholarship fund

By M.L. Liu

“Do fancy things for the world” was one of Celia Rose FitzGerald’s mottoes.

So “fancy thing number one,” as Sue FitzGerald, Celia’s mother, called it, was a swimathon. From 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. last Saturday and Sunday, children and adults crowded into McBurney YMCA’s swimming pool. The swimmers had signed up sponsors who pledged money for every lap they swam, money that would go toward the Celia Rose T. FitzGerald Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Celia, who would have been 8 this past March, died in a skiing accident while on vacation with her family in Banff in Alberta, Canada. She was in the second grade at P.S. 41, also known as the Greenwich Village School, which has 730 students.

FitzGerald estimated that 400 to 500 people showed up for the Swimathon. Lori McDermott, whose 8-year-old daughter, Julia, was Celia’s best friend, created the event with some other P.S. 41 parents. They thought the swimathon would be a fun way for their children to remember Celia.

About $1,200 was raised through a raffle and the selling of refreshments at the event. The restaurant Cafe Cafe donated drinks, and Susannah Nolan contributed items baked by her husband, Tim, and daughter, Olivia, who was in Celia’s class. FitzGerald hopes to receive $8,000 to $10,000 in pledge money.

Celia’s grandfather, Thomas FitzGerald, came up with the idea for the scholarship fund.

“She [Celia] had the benefit financially to participate in a lot of programs,” said Thomas. He and Sue FitzGerald would like the fund to help young people in financial need pursue arts training, whether through after-school classes or summer camp.

“It won’t be a one-shot deal with having the opportunity to participate in something,” said Sue FitzGerald. “If they’re very motivated, we’re going to try to see them through college.” Although the fund is still being organized, FitzGerald would like to find nominees for the scholarship in the public school system.

In addition to the swimathon, Sue FitzGerald plans to raise money for the fund by selling T-shirts, holding an art auction and possibly staging a benefit performance of a play written by actors at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, where Celia had been taking classes.

“Everything that we’re doing is so inspired by her. It’s almost like she laid it all out, and we’re just following her wishes and her dream,” said Sue FitzGerald.

According to her mother, Celia — who went by CeCe at school — wanted to be an actress. Her first role, when she was 5, was as the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I was looking forward to the day she would take me to the Oscars. I thought that was the only way I could ever get there,” said Sue FitzGerald. She and her husband, Brenden, are sculptors.

Celia was also an artist and writer who loved to swim and play basketball.

“She always had a pencil with a clipboard with paper on it. She was always drawing and writing,” said Sue FitzGerald, who noted that Celia started doing both “as soon as she could hold a pencil.” Celia’s drawing of the front of a house was selected to be the cover of P.S. 41’s 2005 children’s art and poetry calendar.

As much as for her talents, people remember Celia for her joyful personality.

“She was a leader in her class, and she had friends in all different grades,” said her mother. She said Celia and her 4-year-old sister, Stella Louise, were becoming best friends.

“Celia was an exceptional kid,” said Nina Greenberg, whose 7-year-old daughter, Nicolette, was friends with Celia. “She was wise beyond her years.” McDermott similarly thought that Celia was “a really remarkable girl.”

Following Celia’s death, Lois Weiswasser, the principal of P.S. 41, brought in grief counselors to talk to students and parents. The school is in the process of creating a lasting tribute to Celia, according to P.S. 41 parent coordinator Michele Farinet.

FitzGerald is thankful for the support her family has received from the P.S. 41 community, neighbors and friends.

“She [Celia] had touched so many people, and their response to the fund is really motivated by wanting to carry on her spirit,” Sue FitzGerald said. “She was a magical girl.”

Visit http://www.celiarose.org to see some of Celia’s artwork and writing or to contribute to the Celia Rose T. FitzGerald Memorial Scholarship Fund.

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