On a somber, Sunday morning 2,293 American flags, representing Nassau County residents who died from Covid-19, were placed on the green outside Village Hall in Bayville.
The initiative was led by 15-year-old Bayville teenager Jack Baker, who as a result of his work became a Henrik Lundqvist Foundation ambassador. The nonprofit, founded by former New York Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and his wife Therese, is based on the belief that young people can make a difference in the world.
While brainstorming ideas for his project Jack came across a news article about the over 200,000 flags representing lives lost to Covid-19 that were placed in the D.C. Armory Parade Ground Southeast. The project, “In America, How Could This Happen,” was conceptualized by D.C. area artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg.
“It was nice to see that someone could do something that great to make people feel better and show that there was support for them,” Jack said. “I thought that would be a great idea to do up here.”
Jack’s grandfather, Tom Kaiser, was among the approximately now 300,000 who lost their lives to Covid-19. Although the flags in the Washington D.C. memorial were white, Jack wanted to recognize that each life lost in this country this year was an American.
At the time of Kaiser’s death in May, Jessica Kaiser Baker, Jack’s mother, said the family was unable to honor her father’s life with a traditional funeral, an experience that many who lost their loved ones to Covid-19 shared.
“It was like he was buried and that was it,” Kaiser Baker said. “There was no memorializing of them. So, we figured, at least this could give people a little peace and closure.”
Temperatures on Sunday reached almost 60 degrees. Kaiser Baker said she was sure her father had a hand in making the day beautiful. Along with a flag to represent his grandfather, Jack, with his grandmother Barbara Kaiser, placed three other flags to represent loved ones who died from Covid-19.
“The mayor emailed him today saying he was already getting compliments,” Kaiser Baker said. “Jack said he hopes people stop and take a moment to think of the people who died and maybe people will come up to Bayville to see it and think of the family member they lost.”
These lives lost are so much more than just tallies and figures published on websites and Covid-19 fact sheets, Kaiser Baker said. “They were grandmas and grandpas and moms and dads,” she reasoned.
After working with Nassau County officials like Legislator Josh Lafazan in the fall, Jack eventually decided to place the memorial in his hometown of Bayville. He reached out to Bayville Mayor Bob De Natale to discuss his project.
“The mayor said, ‘Yes, what do you need? What day? Happy to support it,’” Kaiser Baker said.
Jack’s goal, Kaiser Baker said, was to have the memorial ready before the holidays so that families and friends would be able to memorialize their loved ones.
“I hope when people see it they know that people are supporting you and that [their loved one] is getting a proper send off,” Jack said.
Kaiser Baker said she was especially impressed with her son when he emailed and called De Natale. “It’s funny from a mom perspective that your tenth grader is talking to these officials,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Who are your Zoom meeting with?’”
De Natale said he was very impressed by Jack, referring to him as a “mature young gentleman.”
“I’m most impressed by his desire to want to honor the folks that have passed through Covid-19, especially his grandfather,” De Natale said. “I think it was a beautiful tribute.”
As people drive by the thousands of flags at a time when Covid-19 is on the rise again, with 839 new cases and three recent deaths, it is hoped by the Bakers that perhaps they will take Covid-19 and the precautions to prevent it more seriously.
“Both my sons Jack and Liam assigned their friends a day to check on the flags and pick up more if they need more,” Kaiser Baker said. “The hope is they will not need to add more.”