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Published: Sunday, 2/10/2013

Couple evoke love from Toledo’s heart, send oversized Valentine wishes to grieving Newtown

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Larry and Susan Ocheske pose in front of a Sandy Hook memorial they arranged at the Old Amtrack Village site at the corner of Emerald and Logan streets in Toledo. They also provided two large Valentine cards for people to sign across the street from the memorial. Larry and Susan Ocheske pose in front of a Sandy Hook memorial they arranged at the Old Amtrack Village site at the corner of Emerald and Logan streets in Toledo. They also provided two large Valentine cards for people to sign across the street from the memorial.
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Jason Hugg and Michelle Santus took time away from their children Saturday to send a little hope east to the families affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting tragedy in December.

“This is really awesome that you are doing this,” Mr. Hugg, 33, a laborer who lives in South Toledo, told Larry Ocheske, 66, who stood ready in the cold at Logan Street and Emerald Avenue near the Amtrak station early Saturday afternoon with markers, plus two oversized Valentine cards he had crafted, in the hopes people in Toledo would stop by to sign them.

And they did — 35 people showed up during the three-hour event and signed the two cards.

“I am sure that some of those kids who were in those classes when it happened don’t feel too great about humanity, so the cards may help them feel that there are plenty of good people in the world who do care, and who are not hateful and hurtful,” Mr. Hugg said after he and Ms. Santus signed the two cards — one for the victims and their families and the other one for students at Sandy Hook’s new school in Monroe, Conn.

The couple have three children from previous relationships, Mr. Hugg said.

Before the pair stopped by to sign the cards about 2:30 p.m., three Toledo police cruisers pulled over within about 20 minutes, with officers stepping out of the vehicles to sign the cards and talk to Mr. Ocheske and his wife of four years, Susan Ocheske.

Officer Ron Fuelling, 51, said he signed the cards “just to give my condolences to all the people in Sandy Hook.”

“My prayers are with them. It could happen anywhere,” Officer Fuelling said.

Ms. Ocheske, 66, said the cards were her husband’s idea and that she supported it because her heart goes out to the families of the victims and the community.

Mr. Ocheske, a resident of the Old South End neighborhood near the Amtrak station, has for three years organized an annual memorial for three Morenci, Mich., boys who were last seen in the back yard of their father’s home on Thanksgiving Day in 2010.

Mr. Ocheske expanded the tribute this weekend to the 12 girls, eight boys, and six adult women who were killed during a shooting rampage Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“I just want to show that we here in Toledo and northwest Ohio care, just the same way that they would care if something happened to us,” Mr. Ocheske said at noon, just after setting up a small card table with the cards and a Mylar, heart-shaped balloon. “I just felt terrible about what happened so I had to do this.”

Toledo Police officers Mike Stewart, left, and Craig Smith sign cards for Sandy Hook Elementary students. Toledo Police officers Mike Stewart, left, and Craig Smith sign cards for Sandy Hook Elementary students.
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He collected signatures at the memorial from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, planning to send the cards so they are delivered by Valentine’s Day, which is Thursday. Before they are mailed Tuesday, Mr. Ocheske plans to have them available for signing by students at Waite High School.

Soon after the building of the memorial to the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, someone on about Jan. 17 vandalized it. Mr. Ocheske said an anonymous donor then dropped off several large wreaths to restore the memorial. The first names of all the victims are written in the wreaths.

Former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner arrived about 2:40 p.m. Saturday and signed the two cards. Mr. Ocheske had also invited representatives from several area school districts, including Toledo, Perrysburg, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, and Oregon, but they did not show up, he said.

Blade staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade, 419-340-3708, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.



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