May 29, 2014 at 11:26 AM, updated May 29, 2014 at 2:22 PM
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A friend of West Amwell’s Jason Fuhr wants to build a school in his memory in a remote village in Laos. Ken Hayes of Delaware Township knew Fuhr from church. They were both members of Stockton Presbyterian Church and they and their wives all sang in the church choir and saw each other socially outside of church, too.
Fuhr died unexpectedly in February. He had served many years on the West Amwell and South Hunterdon school boards; was an ardent booster of South Hunterdon High School sports; and ran a golf tournament that raised about $10,000 a year for charity each year.
Hayes owns Aqua Survey, a Kingwood Township company that does a variety of hi-tech work, some of it underwater and much of it colorful, such as hunting for sunken treasure in Florida and finding unexploded bombs buried in Laos. In the course of his frequent trips to Laos, Hayes has lost his heart to the stoic and friendly people of that impoverished country.
Millions of tennis-ball sized bombs, dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War, are maiming Laotians as they explode belatedly, and Hayes has been donating and raising funds to outfit them with prosthetic legs. With a $75 donation good for purchase and fitting of one leg, Hayes has leveraged about 400 legs so far, including some donated by Jason and Irma Fuhr.
The Jason School effort is the happy confluence of Jason Fuhr’s devotion to children and their education and Ken Hayes’ love of the Lao people.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Irma Fuhr. “I only wish my husband were alive to see it. He’d be thrilled.” She said it is in keeping with the many things he did for others.
The school will cost $35,000. It will have eight classrooms and four toilets. It will have block walls, concrete floors and tin roofing. Wooded shuttered window openings and a long fluorescent lamp will finish off each room.
About $17,000 has been raised so far. A fundraising event will be held at the Stockton Presbyterian Church on Saturday, June 28, at 3 p.m. at which Hayes will talk up the project and show slides of the kids. Hayes promises the Tootsie Roll Pops and root-beer barrel candies “will be flowing,” because those are the signature treats Fuhr kept in his pockets to hand out to anyone he encountered, young or old.
At the center of the fundraiser will be an auction of rare, antique ceremonial silk blankets woven by northern Lao villagers. There are six wedding blankets and one healing blanket. They will be displayed at Cane Furniture in Rosemont 10 days before the event. Hayes expects to hold another fundraiser in Lambertville later on.
Although it’s not hard to find a Lao village sorely in need of a new school, Hayes chose the remote village of Vieng Xay Nalaung because Niddavone, a Lao woman who has helped his company in its operations over there, has educated cousins in the village who would be able to manage the project.
Despite the beauty of the gesture, why ship good American money halfway around the world?
“Because there’s no boundary on little kids, and they all deserve to have a good life,” says Hayes.
Earlier this month, equipped with a broad-brimmed hat and carrying a camera bag crammed full of sunglasses, camera, two liters of water, mosquito repellent, 12 Tootsie Roll Pops and a laminated photo of Jason Fuhr, Hayes set out for the village.
Photo Credit to Ken Hayes/Hunterdon County Democrat
A fundraising event will be held at the Stockton Presbyterian Church
on Saturday, June 28, at 3 p.m.(at which Hayes will talk up the project and show slides of the kids.)
Stockton Presbyterian Church
22 South Main Street
Stockton, NJ 08559