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The tragic deaths of two young women - one in an accident, the other from cancer - has led to the creation of scholarship funds that have raised tens of thousands of dollars to help dozens of children interested in the performing arts. This month, Jim Hummel sits down with each of the girls’ parents, who talk about the tremendous support they have received over the past six years.
Click here for more information about Heavenly Gingers.
Frank O’Donnell has been a professional comedian for more than three decades, appearing in front of hundreds of audiences like this one that gathered at Twin River on a Tuesday evening last month. Being on stage is a natural and comfortable place for O’Donnell.
But this show - an annual event he’s done the past six years - alongside fellow comedian John Morris - had poignant moments and more than a few tears.
That’s because the show - dubbed Heavenly Gingers - is a tribute to Keri Anne O’Donnell, Frank’s daughter who was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 15; and to Morris’s daughter Jessica, who died in 2008 at age 20 from ovarian cancer.
Keri, the youngest of Frank and Karen O’Donnell’s four children, died in July of 2010.
Frank: ``In the fall or so is when we started to think: `You know what, we need to do something to honor these kids.’”
Jessie had died two years before Keri, but Frank and Karen O’Donnell had become very close with her parents, John and Kathie Morris, through Kathie’s dance studio - where both girls had grown up. They viewed themselves as cousins, with a lot of other friends joining in.
Karen: ``It was a family, those kids, between the theater kids and the dance kids, there was a lot of intermixing because they all had the same interests.’’
Frank: ``During the summer of the accident we had some horrific thunderstorms. John and I talked a lot, because John had been there already. We were just joking, because that’s what we do, that the thunderstorms were the girls fighting over who was in charge of the dance studio up there. And that’s where `Heavenly Gingers’ came from. So we had our two gingers fighting, not really fighting, but `No, no, no I’m in charge’ - `No, I’m in charge’ because that’s what both of them exactly would have done. And that’s where it came from.’’
The Heavenly Gingers show, which has became an annual event, funds two separate non-profit organizations: Jessie’s Dream and the Keri Anne O’Donnell Memorial Fund. It has raised tens of thousands of dollars and provided scholarships for dozens of kids to go to camps, workshops or to take lessons in a variety of performing arts they otherwise might not be able to afford.
Jessie loved performing and literally grew up at Kat’s dance studio, now in its 35th year. Jess and her younger sister Kayla, who now teachers with her mother, performed their first dance with Kat when Kayla was 5 and her older sister 9.
Kat: ``Her main thing was dance and this is what she wanted to do…She had all intentions to go down to Disney, do like an exchange Disney dancer down there for awhile. The stage was her thing, but dance was her thing.’’