• One Maple Creek boy brings a dime a day for 12 days to contribute
• Injured Fresno fire captain’s face lights up when children wave at him
• Fund drive for burn center collected 44,020 dimes
Never miss a local story.
Maple Creek Elementary students learned the value of a dime Friday.
For collecting $4,402 — the equivalent of 44,020 dimes —for the Leon S. Peters Burn Center, they got a wave and a smile from Pete Dern, the Fresno fire captain who is recovering from severe burns he got while battling a blaze.
“It made his day,” said Dern’s wife, Kelly Dern, who accepted a check from the students for the burn center.
“His face lit up,” said Dern’s daughter, McKenzie Dern.
The Clovis Unified School District students were the first youngsters to visit Dern since he was burned over 65% of his body battling a house fire March 29. He remains in critical condition. In preparing the students to see the captain, burn center clinical director Sandra Yovino said he has bandages on his head because of burns to the top of his head and bandages over his ears, but his face was not burned.
“He is sitting up,” she said. “And he will probably lift his hands and wave.”
One student, leadership class president Samuel Otta, was chosen to put on a gown and go inside Dern’s hospital room to present a get-well card.
Yovino said Dern told Otta: “‘I’m touched deeply from the bottom of my heart.”
The remaining leadership students had been told they wouldn’t be able to see the fire captain, but Dern told hospital staff he wanted to acknowledge the students’ gift. They clustered outside his hospital room and waved at him through the doorway and glass window.
Dern waved back.
“It was awesome,” said Tori McClelland, 11, a sixth-grader.
Gavin Rose, 10, a fifth-grader, said: “You feel great for helping the people that help you.”
A woman, Julia Beth Ann Harper, 52, is suspected of starting the fire that critically injured Dern. She is scheduled to be in court Monday for a status hearing. Mark Siegel, Harper’s lawyer, said she remains in jail. Bail was set at $100,000 at her arraignment on April 27. Harper pleaded not guilty to two counts of arson.
Dern’s injury has captured the attention of Fresnans and many beyond. A bystander’s video of the captain’s fall through the garage roof, and the desperate efforts by fellow firefighters to rescue him, attracted wide attention on social media. An online fundraiser for Dern and his family on youcaring.com had raised more than $157,000 as of Friday afternoon.
The Maple Creek Elementary students’ fundraiser, “Dimes for Captain Dern,” was special, however. The 10-bed burn center largely depends on donations, and Yovino told the students: ‘We most definitely will put your hard work to work for our burn patients.”
Tami Frediani, a teacher and the leadership class adviser at Maple Creek in northeast Fresno, said the entire school got behind the dimes campaign.
One boy brought a dime a day for 12 days to school.
Another asked his father to break a $20 bill into 200 dimes so he could bring the coins to add to the growing pot.
Frediani had a special reason for helping her fifth-grade class raise money — she graduated from Clovis West High with Kelly Dern. Frediani was proud of her class for tying with a fourth-grade class across the hall. Students in each room raised $770.
One of the classes (Frediani wouldn’t say which one) had a chance to be the winner, but the students routed a last-minute $15 donation to another class’ total.
The two winning classes decided they should finish together, she said. As one child told her, “‘That’s what Capt. Dern would have wanted.’”