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Archive for Saturday, October 27, 2001

Classroom honors fallen teens

October 27, 2001

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Memories of teen-age friends LaTonya Farmer and Brandy Martin run deep.

A standing-room-only crowd of family and teachers gathered Friday for dedication of the Lawrence school district's new Even Start family literacy classroom in honor of the teens, who died of smoke inhalation in a 1993 arson fire.

The Infant-Toddler Even Start Classroom was dedicated in memory of
LaTonya Farmer and Brandy Martin at the Early Childhood/Adult
Learning Center, 1919 Del. A 1993 fire in Lawrence claimed the
lives of the two young girls. Viewing a photograph of Farmer on
Friday at the dedication are, from left, Farmer's niece Dejanelle
Lockett, 11, whom Farmer rescued from the fire; Farmer's mother,
Ella Farmer; Cris Anderson, coordinator of the Even Start program;
Eula Hoel, mother of Brandy Martin; and Hoel's granddaughter India
Martin, 2.

The Infant-Toddler Even Start Classroom was dedicated in memory of LaTonya Farmer and Brandy Martin at the Early Childhood/Adult Learning Center, 1919 Del. A 1993 fire in Lawrence claimed the lives of the two young girls. Viewing a photograph of Farmer on Friday at the dedication are, from left, Farmer's niece Dejanelle Lockett, 11, whom Farmer rescued from the fire; Farmer's mother, Ella Farmer; Cris Anderson, coordinator of the Even Start program; Eula Hoel, mother of Brandy Martin; and Hoel's granddaughter India Martin, 2.

"It's not how long you live. It's how you live." said the Rev. Leo Barbee of Victory Bible Church, 1942 Mass.

Farmer and Martin spent their final evening together in a second-floor apartment on West 25th Street looking after Farmer's nieces, Dejanelle and Tiffany Lockette. They brushed the girls' hair before sending them off to bed Jan. 16.

About 2:30 a.m. Jan. 17, everyone in the apartment was awakened by screaming. The building was on fire. Smoke and heat blocked their exit.

Before being overcome by smoke, Farmer saved the Lockette girls by passing them out a window. Farmer died Jan. 17 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Martin survived until Jan. 18 at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

In their brief lives, both made an impression.

"I hope I can, in my life, touch someone the way she did," said Sonia Farmer, LaTonya's sister and mother of the two children she saved.

At Friday's dedication, people recalled Farmer's love of music. She was a sophomore at Lawrence High School and died the same day she was to sing with a choir at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

"I hope we don't look at the incident as a tragic event but as a positive event," Sonia Farmer said.

Lawrence philanthropist William Dann donated $50,000 to Even Start to make the tribute possible. He previously gave $200,000 to the Lawrence Schools Foundation for early-childhood programs in the public schools.

Dann said his latest gift was motivated by stories of the two promising lives cut short and a desire to remind folks the community's wealth was best measured by the way it treats its children.

"The little people are the most important people in society," Dann said.

Even Start, brought to Lawrence in 1993, integrates adult literacy instruction and early childhood education. While parents attend adult education classes, their children take infant/toddler and preschool classes.

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