By Mark Stevens
Social, organized, independent. Those are just a few of the words used to describe Laurel Hotelling, who passed away last November at the age of 54. Laurel was one of four children – with brother Rick and sisters Diane and Donna – raised by Elaine and Wayne Hotelling of Silver Creek, NY.
“Laurel always made it a point to ask someone their name and introduce herself,” said her parents. “She enjoyed her position as grand marshal of the Laurel Run but was very willing to share the spotlight with her friends.”
The Laurel Run is an annual two-day event that raises money to support people with disabilities. Laurel was the centerpiece of that event, which includes the signature Laurel’s Lap, in which anyone with a disability is invited to take a lap around the track.
The first day of Laurel Run starts in Jamestown and ends in Dunkirk. The second day’s events take place in Silver Creek. In addition to the village, the city of Dunkirk plays a vital role in the Laurel Run, as it hosts a picnic in Washington Park after the kickoff relay from Jamestown. During that event, Mayor Willie Rosas has read and presented the Hotelling family with a proclamation.
“I first participated in the Laurel Run when I was a New York State trooper. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Wayne Hotelling and his wife, Elaine, as well as Laurel,” Mayor Rosas said. “As mayor, I have always been amazed at the dedication Mr. and Mrs. Hotelling put into this event. I have been inspired by their commitment to their daughter. They have brought much-needed attention to the issue. Laurel will always be remembered as a strong and courageous person, and the City of Dunkirk will always support the Hotellings on any future events.”
Laurel worked at TRC’s Mary Andrews Work Center on East Chestnut Street in Dunkirk. Supervisor Lillian Logan has several fond memories of her friend, including helping Laurel store her medicine box every morning for safe keeping and then giving it back to her at the end of the day so she could put it in her backpack. Another memory involves asking Laurel what the T-shirt color was going to be for that upcoming Laurel Run, with Laurel liking pink best.
“That beautiful smile and the twinkle in her eyes just made my day every day. Ever gracious, she thought about others before herself. I will dearly miss that contagious giggle and beautiful smile. She taught me more about living life and being grateful for every opportunity I get in the seven years I knew her, than I have learned on my own. What beautiful memories. I will cherish them,” said Lillian.
Laurel and her smile were well known.
“She was usually smiling. In fact, her smile is the characteristic most people commented on,” said Wayne. “She radiated love and joy. You could almost feel her before you saw her.”
Much like at work, Laurel enjoyed routine at home as well. Her parents say before she moved on to the next task, the first had to be completed.
“Everything had a place, and she knew exactly where that place was,” said her mother. “If it were her cards, they needed to be put back in order, fastened together and put away. There was no `just put them down and we’ll do it later.’ Things moved on Laurel time.”
Several years ago, Laurel moved into The Resource Center’s home on Birchwood Drive in Fredonia. Yet she wasn’t there much over the last couple of years, as she spent a lot of time in hospitals and then would recuperate at her parents’ house. She had many friends at Birchwood though, including the Residence Manager, Nick Parent.
“I can tell you that Laurel was an intelligent and extremely kind-hearted person. She was selfless, always willing to give to others, and often did things to brighten the spirits of those around her,” said Nick. “She was probably the most optimistic and cheerful person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and I miss being in her company. Laurel will always be in my heart and a direct inspiration to my work. I could not be more grateful for the time that I was blessed to share with her.”
Laurel also loved to travel, and for several years she and her parents vacationed in Myrtle Beach during March. While her parents went for the whole month, Laurel would spend two weeks there, flying down by herself with no problems.
“Many times we were accompanied by her aunt or grandmother, and Laurel was the one who kept them organized,” said Wayne.
She traveled to North Dakota, Mississippi and Connecticut to visit family, as well as to Disney World in Florida by car and plane. She had also represented The Resource Center at a convention in San Diego, where she attended a demonstration on Native American drumming. Her favorite Christmas song, not surprisingly, was “The Little Drummer Boy.”
This past holiday season was tough for the Hotelling family, as Laurel had enjoyed decorating and making candy. At Thanksgiving, when everyone else was setting out the pilgrims, Laurel had to have Native Americans. At Christmas, she always portrayed an angel in the Sunday school program.
“She would shrug her shoulders so her wings would flutter,” said Elaine. “And now our angel has received her wings.”
Looking back on the last few months, the Hotellings want to express their gratitude and thank the hundreds of people who helped them in their time of need by sending cards, prayers, flowers, and food. Not to mention the more than 400 people who visited the family at the funeral home over the course of four hours.
“The outpouring of support and love we have received from others has been overwhelming and uplifting,” said Wayne and Elaine.
Everyone is invited to attend a celebration of Laurel’s life Sunday, May 6, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the Silver Creek Fire Hall.