After launching plans in 1997 to build a monument that would pay tribute to the state's fallen emergency workers, the Maryland Fire-Rescue Services Memorial Foundation was flooded with donations.
But permits and other logistics slowed the group's progress, and the projected cost quickly outpaced the foundation's initial budget, leaving the tiny non- profit once again to raise funds.
To gather the $250,000 still needed to break ground, the cash-strapped foundation has organized benefit events at local bars and taverns -- hoping to provide a good time while collecting small donations, one $10 cover charge at a time.
The first benefit will take place tomorrow at Heroes Pub in Annapolis -- not far from where the bronze and concrete monument someday will stand.
Heroes' party will feature a small silent auction, dancing and a DJ. The bar will offer drink specials throughout the night, and proceeds will go directly to the memorial fund, said foundation development coordinator Chip Riddleberger, who helped organize the benefit.
Foundation President J. Donald Mooney said Thursday that his group began the fund-raising campaign because it remains hesitant to tap close associates for a second round of contributions. Early donations came mostly from those inside the fire service community.
"You can't keep going back to the well; people only got so much money," Mooney said.
To be located on a grassy patch of land between Bladen Street and Rowe Boulevard near downtown Annapolis, the monument will honor more than 325 Maryland men and women who died in the line of duty since 1840. The tribute will serve as a state-specific complement to the National Fallen Firefighters Monument, which was built in Emmitsburg in 1981.
Construction is expected to take eight to 12 months, said foundation treasurer Gene Worthington.
Riddleberger said the idea for a "grass-roots-style" development campaign evolved during conversations among foundation volunteers, regular bar patrons and Heroes owner-operator Kurt Beall. His tiny watering hole is decorated with smoky uniform hats, coats and other fire service memorabilia.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport firefighter John Hurley, who helped plan the Heroes event -- he has volunteered to be the disc jockey for the evening under the moniker "Big John" -- promises that the fund-raiser will be a low-key affair.
"More than anything," he said, the party and the memorial it supports are "for the families of the fallen heroes -- to let them know that we haven't forgotten about them.
"It's something that has needed to be in the state of Maryland for a long time," he said.
And though Mooney knows the small parties will not raise enough funds anytime soon to reach the $850,000 total cost of building the monument, he and Worthington say they are confident that the group's efforts will keep pace with its projected groundbreaking date of Sept. 11.
For them and many others involved, dedicating the memorial is just a matter of time.
"We're going to get it built -- no ifs, ands or buts about it," Mooney said.