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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Camp honours slain co-founder Rochelle Wise

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Crestwood Valley Day Camp dedicated its creative arts centre to Wise.

TORONTO — It was a way to make sure that her legacy would live forever.

Crestwood Valley Day Camp in Toronto honoured the late Rochelle Wise, one of its founding directors, by dedicating its creative arts centre to her in a ceremony July 8.

Wise, 66, and her husband of four years, retired businessman David Pichosky, 71, were found dead in their Hallandale Beach, Fla., townhouse on Jan. 10. Police say they were asphyxiated and believe more than one perpetrator was involved, but despite a $51,000 reward for information, there are few leads in the case.

Friends, family, staff and camp alumni were on hand to speak and pay tribute to Wise at Crestwood, located beside Glendon College near Lawrence and Bayview Avenues.

“As founding director, Rochelle meant everything to this camp,” said Crestwood co-director Bobby Freeman. “Rochelle had a mission in life, to help people and be charitable, and she found a way to do both.

“She was here for 15 years, and we learned everything we could from her to help carry on her legacy.”

The archway in her honour has Wise’s name and the word “imagine” on it, something she always encouraged from her staff and campers.

“Imagination was everything to her,” Freeman said. “She wanted the children and staff to be as creative and imaginative as possible, [to believe] that they could do anything they wanted to do in life.”

The installation at Crestwood brought out a few emotions in her son, Jamie.

“I’m overwhelmed at how many people remember, care and were touched in one way or another by my mom that they came out to pay tribute to her,” Wise said.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s very nice that she’ll be remembered here, every day, forever. It means a lot.”

Wise hopes people remember that the case is still an ongoing investigation.

“This, to me, is critical,” Wise said. “It’s important to not forget how she died, and to find those people and hold them accountable for my mom, for justice, for the community,” he said.

“People need to step back and think of anything unusual, out of the ordinary,” Wise added. “There’s nothing too small to call CrimeStoppers about.”

Wise was the last of a half-dozen speakers at the tribute, which began out by the archway, but was moved inside as heavy rains were set to begin.

“There’s a bit of a metaphor and meaning behind [the storm hitting when and quickly as it did],” said camp director Eric Shendelman.

“When Rochelle came down to this camp in my first year [2005], she was at one end of the camp, and five minutes later, she was at the other end of the camp,” Shendelman added. “I learned a lot from her about the fast pace of camp.”

In the camp office, the same principles she used to preach have been adopted by current staff.

“She would say, ‘How will you make a difference to the children?’” Shendelman said. “And that legacy lives on.”

It does for Alice Barnett, a former counsellor who uses the lessons she learned from Wise in her current work as a teacher.

“Any time I deal with a tearful, difficult or overexcited teenager, I think ‘What would Rochelle do?’” Barnett said.

“I stop and listen, and look for the sparkle inside them to coach, empower, encourage or comfort.”

Wise’s gift was shared with many, both at Crestwood and Bialik Hebrew Day School, where she was a preschool vice-principal before her retirement.

“She was a very special human being, because she could have an impact on a four-year-old or a 40-year-old,” her son said. “I’m not sure if she’d always realize the impact she had on people’s lives.”

The archway dedicated to Wise is now being walked under by her grandchildren, Elle and Sophie, who are attending Crestwood for the first time this year.

“I tell my daughters every day, as they leave for camp, to not forget to look for Baba’s sign, because everyone at that camp loved your Baba,” Wise said. “This was a special place for her, and it’s a special place for you.

“It’s very nice, for me, to know that my kids are here and going under the archway to the creative arts centre that’s named after their grandmother.”

The next print edition of The CJN is Aug. 1.

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