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Honoring Heroes Of The '55 Flood
Friday afternoon, half a century to the day after so many risked their lives to save so many more from raging flood waters, people gathered along the now quiet Farmington River to honor two heroes.
Charles J. Yodkins Sr. and Joseph J. Morin Jr. did not know each other before that day the Farmington River poured out of its banks and washed away people, houses and entire neighborhoods.
Yodkins, a 43-year-old Farmington police officer who had already rescued several people that day, learned of a family stranded by the rising waters at their home in the River Glen neighborhood. He went in search of a boat to rescue the Frey family.
Morin, a 22-year-old University of Connecticut senior with plans to become a dentist, had a boat he'd built with his own hands and a motor he'd saved and saved for.
Yodkins knocked at the Morin family's door. Young Joseph, who was known as Jackie, agreed to use of the boat, but insisted on joining the officer in the rescue effort, Morin's sister Kathleen Crowe recalled Friday afternoon.
"`I'm going with you,'" Crowe recalled her brother saying. "`I'll help.' And then the two of them put the boat in the water and neither of them ever came back."
The Morin family knew many families from River Glen because the family owned a grocery store nearby on Farmington Avenue. A Subway sandwich shop now occupies the building. The Morins lived in the apartment upstairs.
When the two rescuers tried to get Mildred Barrows Frey into the boat, she fell into the water. Her 16-year-old daughter, Mildred Ruth Frey, then tried to jump into the boat, causing it to capsize. The swift current carried everyone away. The bodies of Yodkins, Robert C. Frey and Mildred Ruth Frey were recovered later. Morin and Mildred Barrows Frey were never found.
The Carnegie Hero Fund honored Yodkins and Morin for their efforts, posthumously awarding each a medal. The narrow park where the ceremony took place, with Route 4 on one side and the Farmington River on the other, is named Yodkins-Morin Memorial Park in honor of the two men.
But the Farmington Police Department did not have an awards program at the time. So department officials decided to mark the flood's 50th anniversary by honoring Yodkins, the Farmington Police Department's only line-of-duty death, and Morin.
Chief James V. Rio described what the two men did that night. Simsbury Police Chief Peter Ingvertsen, a Unionville resident whose father was Farmington police chief at the time of the flood, recalled his father's sadness at the loss of Yodkins and assured both families that neither man had ever been forgotten.
Yodkins' widow, Alice Griffin, sat at the ceremony surrounded by family. Rio presented her with the department's medal of honor and a plaque.
Griffin recalled that while her husband worked to save people from the flood, she was at home tending to a family from Pennsylvania whose car was damaged in an accident as they were driving through Farmington. The people had no place to go or stay, and her husband had brought them home.
She hadn't seen her husband in several days, but didn't think much of it until she saw a photograph of him in the newspaper after an earlier rescue.
"When I saw the picture in the paper I knew something was wrong," she said. "The look in his eyes. He didn't think he was going to make it."
After her husband's death, she married the funeral director who had handled her husband's arrangements.
Jackie Morin's sisters, Crowe and Sister Lorraine Morin, said the police department's decision to present the citizen's award to their brother meant a lot to them.
The flood destroyed the family business and took a brother. That his body was never recovered only added to the pain. Each Sunday, with the grocery store closed, Crowe and her parents would walk the river's banks.
"We would go out and trudge downriver looking for him," she recalled. "We did that for months - looking for him."
Half a century has helped ease the pain. As has the knowledge that Jackie Morin died trying to help others.
"It gives you some satisfaction, that what he died for was something worthwhile," Morin said.