GREENVILLE – For many, the holiday season, with its bright colors, familiar carols, and Christmas trees are etched in our minds and memories from an early age. The camera often captures the highlights of our lives, such as sitting on Santa’s knee, ripping the wrapping paper with excitement on Christmas morning, or pausing for a moment to smile with family and friends at holiday party or special event.
Although such treasured photos fade over time, each cherished memory captured in them seem as if suspended in time; we feel the presence of those whom we have loved and lost. If only for a moment or two, when we see their beautiful faces and one-of-a-kind expressions, we can also hear the laughter, remember the hugs, and feel the love.
Losing a loved one unexpectedly can leave those left behind physically, emotionally and spiritually “blindsided” by the shock. Feelings of pain, emptiness, loneliness, and despair are overwhelming, and “getting through” the holiday season can be especially difficult. Sharing the story of who they were, what they enjoyed, their hopes, dreams, ambitions, and perhaps, what they loved most of all in life, is so very important. For families who have experienced such grief and loss, taking one step at a time each day is the “new normal” of life without that person.
Here, in Darke County, Greenville resident Carla Hill-Clark and husband, Randy, are honoring the memory of their son, Vinnie, this year by helping a few local families (and canines) celebrate Christmas this year.
Only 31 years old, Vincent “Vinnie” Hill, along with his beloved dog Hercules, was shot to death while at home in the early morning hours of November 11, 2020, having been stalked by his biological father, Lawrence Hill. Such a horrific crime shocked the Darke County community; in late September 2021, Hill pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 20 years.
While the court case has concluded, Carla and Randy have had a difficult year, enduring the pain and shock of losing Vinnie, and working through the day-to-day struggle of anxiety and grief which has followed them for the past thirteen months.
“What I want people to remember most about my sweet kid, Vinnie, is that although he was a little abrasive on the outer edge, he had a heart of gold on the inside. He was just a big kid at heart,” said Carla. “He loved life, itself, and would have been your best friend. He loved being different, and that was what made him who he was. He marched to his own beat of that drum, but he was a straight shooter. He wasn’t afraid to tell you how it was. The world lost a great person who can never be replaced!”
A Navy veteran and Greenville native, Carla founded BARK Animal Rescue, Inc., a non-profit which rescues and fosters stray, neglected, and abandoned dogs –particularly pit bulls. Vinnie, who had a lifelong love of animals, was devoted to helping with day-to-day activities around the shelter and fostered several dogs himself, included his beloved dog, Hercules.
“Vinnie loved animals, and was the sweetest kid growing up,” said Carla, reminiscing. “He had a cat named Andy Capp who even slept in his crib when he was born, watching over him. Vinnie was raised around animals -dogs and cats – so when we moved to Ohio after my retirement and I started the rescue, it was just a ‘given’ that Vinnie got involved. Many dogs passed through our gates, and Vinnie took a special liking to some of them…Hercules was one of those dogs.”
Over the years, Vinnie had many boyhood interests which shaped his character throughout the years, including his fondness for the Rug Rats, Goosebumps, his collection of Marvel character action-figures, drawing things, exploring new places while riding on his skateboard or dirt bike. Vinnie’s love of animals often led him to care for stray or neglected animals, especially neighborhood cats.
“One story that I won’t ever forget is the night Vinnie brought home this little yellow kitten, scrawny and flea-infested,” said Carla. “He said, ‘Look what I found on a street!’ and I said, ‘Oh my goodness!’ Washing a kitten isn’t easy, so when we got it done and dried him off, Vinnie wanted to keep him, and named him KLU, which he nicknamed ‘Koo Koo’. He’s now 10 years old and weighs almost 18 pounds. He misses Vinnie so much!”
This year, to honor Vinnie’s memory (and Hercules, too), Carla and Randy have decorated their yard along St. Rt. 502 with a colorful collection of holiday lawn decorations, with a light display around the property’s prominent oak tree. In addition, they have decided to give two local Greenville families and two very special dogs a helping hand (and paw) with Christmas gifts this year.
“Vinnie loved the holidays. He loved Christmas. He loved to wrap the presents,” explained Carla. “Even at his age, he would always want to open at least one gift on Christmas Eve… He loved the things I got him, no matter what they were… We had fun decorating the tree. He loved lights. Because he loved Christmas so very much, and because I have no other kids, I wanted to give Christmas to at least one family this year in Vinnie’s memory, and I wanted to give Christmas to a dog as well, in Hercules’ memory.”
Children’s gifts for ages newborn through age 10 are being collected along with practical items, and “Dog Christmas” gifts, such as treats, toys, Nyla bones, and dog biscuits. Items should be unwrapped, but gift tags are welcomed. Items will be collected through December 20.
“If this the first year you are missing a loved one during the holiday season, this time of the year is so incredibly hard,” said Carla. “What I have found thus far to help me is to remember all those Christmas’s past and how happy Vinnie was, how much he loved this time of the year. He is with me in all I do…He would want me to make those memories, to hold onto and keep all of them in my memory and close to my heart. His love is with me, and I hold onto that…Decorate and make new memories of things in his honor as well. That helps me, too. Doing the things that he loved doing.”
Those who wish to join in the effort can contact Carla and Randy Clark at BARK Animal Rescue, Inc. at 937-423-9300, or on the BARK Animal Rescue Facebook Page.