When Baltimore City Police officer Vincent Adolfo was gunned down in 1985, Bonnie Kabara decided to honor his memory with a song.
Her song, "A Great One Such as You," has become a tradition at the Fallen Heroes Day, a memorial service at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens that honors first responders who died in the line of duty. Kabara has sung her tribute to Adolfo at all 30 of the annual ceremonies.
"It's bittersweet," she said. "Every year when the families come up, I have to really get myself together. Their whole lives have changed and these children are going to grow up without their biological parents."
This year on June 12, about 1,500 people gathered at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens to pay tribute to public safety workers who have died in the line of duty.
Kabara was music director at Our Lady of Fatima in east Baltimore when she sang at Adolfo's funeral. After the service, John Arminger asked her to sing the song at the first Fallen Heroes Day he was organizing. The founder of the annual tribute died this past March.
This year marked the 30th for the ceremony and Kabara's song. In addition to the police officer's tribute, she sings a song she wrote for firefighters, "Each One a Fighter." Kabara has sung the firefighter's song at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.
Kabara, a Dundalk native, once wanted to sing on Broadway. She may have never made it to the Great White Way, but she's kept on singing since she was a child.
A Peabody Conservatory student, she won the Miss Baltimore pageant in 1970 and Miss Towson in 1971. "That enabled me to get piano and voice for four years for free," she recalled.
"How lucky for me that I started out as Maria in 'The Sound of Music" and Laurie in 'Oklahoma!' and went from that to always singing," she said. "I'm still singing. What a gift."
Since 1987, Kabara has served as music director at Ascension Catholic Church in Halethorpe. She also taught at the Catholic elementary school until its closing.
For the past six years, she has been chaplain of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary.
Kabara said at age 50 she was considering how she could volunteer for her community when a fire engine passed by. She had been thinking about the Optimists but decided on the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary.
"A friend handed me an application to join the fire department auxiliary. So for many years, I was the vice president and then I became chaplain," she said.
"I don't think I could've put on the suit and fight a fire," she said, "but I can sing."
At 63, Kabara's thinking about retirement. She plans to retire from music ministry in two years and soon after it may be time to step aside from Fallen Heroes Day. "I kind of think the 35th will be my last season," she said.
She's grateful for the opportunity to sing and touched to sing for the survivors of community heroes, "honored," she said, "to be able to do something for police officers' and firefighters' families in their moment of such grief."
Mary K. Tilghman contributed to this report.