Kathy FloydPioneer Sentinel
ClayTex Trophies has made Most Valuable Player trophies for Super Bowls, mementos for dignitaries visiting the White House and medals for former First Lady Laura Bush to present, but ClayTex president Jack Ellis considers the company’s latest project just as important as any of the past high-profile jobs. It is one of tribute to the 12 volunteer firefighters who lost their lives when the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, exploded April 17.
Henrietta resident Susan Reams is a West native. Her brothers, Kevin and David, are volunteer firefighters for the West Volunteer Fire Department. Both responded to the call that night, and their lives were spared although David was injured. After the explosion, Susan and her husband Robert went to West to help Susan’s parents and her brothers salvage what they could from their wrecked homes. At one of the homes, Robert found a mangled scrap of metal on a patch of burned grass. He wondered if something could be done with it that would honor those who died and decided to get Ellis involved. “Jack took off with the idea and ran,” Robert said.
The metal piece lay on Ellis’s desk as he went about his work. Each time he saw it, he thought of the 12 who heard the alarm, got up from their supper to fight a fire, but never went home. “It broke my heart every time I looked at it,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine losing 12 of your crew. We all need to be more appreciative of our volunteers.”
Reams and Ellis thought that the metal resembled a flame and the idea of the memorial plaque began to take shape. Ellis said that all 30 ClayTex employees had a part in the concept and in making the 4-foot wide, almost 5-foot tall walnut, steel and acrylic plaque. Photos of the volunteers from a memorial program were used to reproduce their likenesses using an ink sublimation process on metal. Information about each man is included under their names. The piece of metal was placed at the top, under the words, “West VFD Memorial.” At the bottom, under the 12 faces are the words, “These heroes bravely answered the call, paid the ultimate price and will never be forgotten.”
Preliminary plans are to present the plaque to the West VFD during Westfest, the town’s annual Labor Day weekend celebration of its Czech heritage, then for the plaque to be placed in the VFD headquarters.
Three West residents also died in the explosion. Approximately 300 were injured.
Both Ellis and Reams are mindful of the similarities of the small towns of West and Henrietta — towns where family connections go way back and where those who battle the town’s fires and other emergencies do it without pay. “It’s a brotherhood,” Reams said of the kinship of the volunteer organizations. That’s why Ellis didn’t hesitate to use his company’s resources to honor the 12 who died April 17. “We just wanted to do something so that they would know someone up here was thinking about them,” Ellis said.