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North Apollo playground dedicated

| Thursday, June 19, 2008

When the late Ronald Kerr went to family funerals, he would sneak up behind the mourners and put clothespins on their backs, said his sister, Linda Santymire, 59.

"Ron always tried to lighten a moment," said Santymire, who now lives in Eldersburg, Maryland. "He didn't show a lot of emotion in front of people. The closest people to him could tell he was upset, but you didn't see a lot of the tears."

Now, eight months after Kerr's own funeral, when friends and family are asked to share their funniest memories of him, the only challenge is "narrowing it down," borough Secretary Edward Stitt said.

For more than 25 years, Kerr served the community as a road worker, police officer, beloved prankster and dedicated volunteer who spent so much of his time helping others that almost everyone in town knew his name.

Now Kerr is the namesake for Ron Kerr Memorial Park, a playground at 13th Street and Center Avenue that Kerr helped spruce up in the early 1990s. The playground was dedicated to him Saturday.

"Basically, he was just always doing stuff for people," Stitt said. "A day off, to him, meant he only had a half-dozen yards to mow for people. He would work eight hours for the borough, then put in another four or five for folks around, mowing lawns, trimming trees, cleaning out basements and stuff like that."

Even when Kerr died of complications from cardiovascular disease on Oct. 31, 2007 at the age of 57, a Halloween party in his honor went on as planned -- but in the days that followed, his friends and family wondered how they'd live without him, Stitt said.

"It was rough -- a rough situation," Stitt said. "Everybody just came to count on him so much. We're still having a hard time getting adjusted."

About 10 years ago, Kerr inherited his house on Leonard Street from its former owners, Betty and Bill Boes, because he had done so much to help them over the years, Santymire said.

He moved into the house with his partner of 20 years and fiancee, Donna Barto, 45 -- who didn't want to talk, but asked Santymire to speak for her -- and their daughter, Angela, 8.

During their weekly trips to Wal-Mart and King's, Angela would ask her mother for a toy or treat, and her mother would say no -- but when she asked her father, he always said yes, Santymire said.

His neighbors, Gene and Barbara Burns, said they recalled a picnic a few weeks before he died, where Kerr tried to roast popcorn over an open flame. It ended up exploding all over the yard like a crunchy snowfall, with everyone running around laughing and trying to catch it, Barbara Burns said.

"There are too many good stories to tell -- we could write a book," she said. "He was very special to us, and will be in our hearts forever. He was part of our family."

Kerr decorated the house for every holiday and sent out hundreds of cards to everyone he knew, she said. "It didn't matter who you were, you got a card."

He planted a garden every year and gave away most of what he grew. He helped Angela sell some produce at a roadside stand and let her keep the money, Santymire said.

He filled the house with his collections -- antiques, Hot Wheels cars and other items.

He was a pack rat, Stitt said, but unlike most, he shared his treasures with whomever needed them.

He had a drawer with the Hot Wheels cars that weren't kept pristine as part of his collection and offered one to any child who came to visit, his sister said.

"He collected just about anything that could be collected," Stitt said. "How many people do you know that if you walk up to them and say, 'I have to go up to Henry's and get a new refrigerator, mine quit working,' and he says, "Don't bother -- I have two or three of 'em up in my shed. Come on down and you can have one.'"

Sometimes, he would leave empty wallets around for people to find, either to tease them or to test their honesty.

They'd find the wallet and "get all excited" -- until they opened it up, Stitt said.

"There'd be a little note or something in it: 'Gotcha!'"

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