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Kent cemetery, grieving father at odds over son's memorial (gallery)

By Jeremy Nobile | Staff Writer Published: May 25, 2014 4:00 AM
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For 1,000 days, rain or shine, wind or cold, Fred Molai has visited his son's grave.

There, at Kent's Standing Rock Cemetery, he grieves.

Molai arrives around 6 a.m., kissing Adam's granite headstone before gazing up to the sky and speaking with him.

"I talk with Adam about almost everything," Molai said. "I know he listens. And I will continue going there because I will grieve, the rest of my life, every day, until God reunites me with Adam."

The memorial bears towering murals of his son stretching 10 feet high, an assortment of colorful silk flowers, small fencing, lights and American flags.

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Molai said the tribute "is all about the love of a child without limitations."

Adam was U.S. Navy petty officer who died June 17, 2011, during a rafting trip on the Kings River in California.

He was 23.

The grief, Molai said, is "like a nightmare."

"This pain, it is the most devastating pain that someone can experience," he said. "There is nothing above losing a child."

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Molai visits the memorial and adorns it with tributes to cope with the loss and to ensure Adam knows he is a proud father. Molai also receives counseling through Kent's Counseling for Wellness, LLP.

But cemetery officials think the memorial may be too much.

Every Memorial Day weekend, Molai proudly updates his son's gravesite. On Saturday, he installed some shepherd hooks and wind spinners.

Molai, who is using five of 15 contiguous plots he owns for the memorial, said he may consider adding more to the areas around the current site sometime in the future.

Around this time last year, Molai installed the portraits of his son, which tower over the headstone. Those pictures eventually prompted a letter from the cemetery's board of trustees in September after some apparent complaints.

Richard Brandon, a Kent resident who purchased two plots now adjacent to Adam's grave for him and his wife prior to the memorial's creation, was among those who told cemetery officials the tribute detracts from other gravesites.

"I can understand. He lost a young son. I can see he's grieving very much so," Brandon said. "But still, it's kind of inconsiderate."

"I don't want to be mean," Brandon added, noting his father is a veteran and that he often plants a flag at his Ravenna gravesite. "But I think he's going overboard on this."

Molai said he's heard thousands of compliments, but nary a complaint -- besides those from cemetery officials.

"Maybe they're jealous. I don't know," said Molai of his critics. "I'm not here to satisfy them."

In its letter, cemetery trustees directed Molai to remove the 10-foot-high pictures. They suggested he install them on smaller poles so they aren't as tall, even though the cemetery hasn't imposed height restrictions before.

"The posters were installed without prior approval from the superintendent and you were advised that if complaints were received, we would ask you to remove them," the letter states.

Molai refused to alter the site.

He acquired an injunction to prevent the cemetery from removing anything. A magistrate judge ruled the state's Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission should evaluate the issue.

Molai said that group is currently waiting for a response from the cemetery.

"I just want them to leave me alone so I can continue to grieve the way I want to grieve," Molai said. "I don't need this emotional stress."

Kent Law Director Jim Silver did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ward 3 Councilman Michael DeLeone, who is Council's representative on the cemetery board, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Adam was an electronics technician with the 122nd Strike Fighter Squadron -- a squad known as the "Flying Eagles," who operate F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The day he died, he was separated from a group of eight colleagues in what authorities characterized as a fast-moving, swollen river. His body wasn't recovered for 64 days. Adam left behind a wife and two young daughters, Brooklyne and Amelia.

Molai's story has drawn nationwide exposure as of late, prompting vocalized support from veterans and fellow parents across the country that has bolstered Molai's already unwavering commitment to his son's memorial.

"Although I can not for sure say I would do that same thing if I had lost my son, I feel that you have the right to express your grief and honor your son in your own way," wrote Sgt. Luv Revard of Mishawaka, Ind. in a letter to Molai. "If I lost my son and could bury him in my own soul, I would."

"Appeal any rulings and committee decisions until the day you die," Revard added. "If you choose to honor your son in this way then I support you and your family."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or jnobile@recordpub.com

Facebook: Jeremy Nobile, Record-Courier

Twitter: @jnobile_RPC

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rothshir May 28, 2014 7:19 AM

Fred Molai should be left alone. It is a beautiful tribute Memorial for the loss of his son.

anonymous_54702 May 25, 2014 10:11 AM

Having lost a child myself I understand Mr. Molai's grief. All he wants is to be left alone. The memorial is beautiful to him. I dont see how it "detracts" from other gravesites Mr. Brandon. If it was overgrown and uncared for you might have a something to whine about..

What is "inconsiderate and mean" Richard Brandon, is interfering with a parents grief because you dont like how he decorates his childs gravesite. You say you "can understand". I call BS on that!! Unless you have lost a child you could NEVER understand.. And from reading your inconsidearte comments, I am quite positve you have not. Be blessed in that, and try to find some TRUE compassion for this man instead of trying to hurt him even more by trying to control his grief based on what YOU think is how he should decorate the site. Continuing down that path does not make you right, it just makes you an inconsiderate, ignorant A-Hole..

Good luck and best wishes to you Mr. Molai. I DO understand what you are going through and you have my deepest sympathy and regrets. I wish peace for you and your family. May your son's light and love shine down upon you every day.