By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
A Cape May Court House, N.J., resident, who befriended Katrina victims in Picayune through Rotarian friends after the Aug. 29, 2005, deadly hurricane raked the Mississippi Gulf Coast, found herself seven years later, on Oct. 29, looking down the barrel of a storm, Hurricane Sandy. This time the storm was just outside her own backdoor.
Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey southern coastal area at dusk on a Monday, Oct. 29, and Cape May Court House, where Francey Burke lives, was next door to ground zero for the storm, which came ashore near Atlantic City. Cape May Court House is a small town about 30 miles south of Atlantic City.
Çape May Court House suffered minimal damage, according to Burke, but other parts of what is known as the South Jersey Shore were hit hard. The Cape May community was in the southwest quadrant of the storm, a less volatile section, but further north, the Jersey Shore was in the northeast quadrant, where hurricanes are the most destructive.
Burke, her husband Dave, and employees of a car dealership the Burke family has owned for over 100 years, Burke Motor Group, spent the hours before the storm hit, frantically moving the cars to higher ground. The dealership is only a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. “We were fortunate in Cape May County to not be the hardest hit in New Jersey. We sustained only minimal damage to our home and the car dealership,” she said.
Burke added, “Hurricanes seem to be my specialty. As soon as Irene hit one of my beloved regions of Vermont last year, I spearheaded a financial endeavor and my Rotary Club was among the first to send funds to them; it was literally within days of the hurricane event.”
Burke was the Rotarian and Cape May businesswoman, who with two of her three sons, Doug and Mike, made a 1,210-mile trip to Picayune in December, 2005, to present a $10,000 check to Rotary president Reggie Hanberry. The money was part of the proceeds from an annual golf tournament Burke Motor sponsors each year to raise money for Rotarian scholarships and other causes.
The dealership, Burke Motor Group, is the organizer-sponsor of all the fund-raisers of which Burke is the chairperson. The funds raised are donated to the Rotary Club of Mid Jersey Cape. Burke and her husband Dave have been members of the Rotary Club for years. Dave is the past Rotary Club president and Francey Burke is currently the club’s president. They have been organizing benefit events for 15 years.
Francey Burke says the idea was floated after the 2005 golf benefit tournament that some of the funds be given to hurricane victims along the Gulf Coast. Burke got in touch with her brother, Andy Kanengiser, a news coordinator for Mississippi College in Clinton and a former reporter for The Clarion-Ledger, and Kanengiser got in touch with Will Sullivan, the managing editor of the Picayune Item, and former Clarion-Ledger reporter, and Sullivan, since the money was raised by Rotarians, got in touch with Hanberry, the then 2005 president of the local Picayune Rotary Club.
Then Burke’s three sons — Doug, Mike and Ryan, then 23, 21 and 11 respectively — told their mom that they felt the check should be delivered in person so she could get to know and actually see the people the money was helping.
So she and two of her sons piled into their car and headed for Picayune, and it turned out to be an experience they will always remember.
Hanberry gave Burke and her two sons, Doug and Mike, a tour of the Gulf Coast damage, and they were bewildered by the extent of the destruction. School prevented Ryan from making the trip.
The Burke family made friends with a number of people here. The Item gave the donation and trip front-page coverage, and the Picayune Rotarians used the money to double their number of Christmas baskets to help residents who were still suffering from Katrina.
Now Burke is helping her own people recover. Burke and the Cape Rotary Club are raising money to help New Jersey storm victims.
Says her brother, Kanengiser, of Pearl: “Her passion to help others was evident the night when Hurricane Sandy ravaged much of her native New Jersey and the Northeast. Francey stayed focused on keeping a family safe in her home that scary evening in South Jersey. Despite losing power, she managed to forge ahead on her biggest fundraiser of the year, all for a good cause.” The Burkes, through sponsoring the golf tournament annually, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for storm victims and Rotarian causes and other charitable causes.
While Sandy was no Katrina, it was one of the strongest to ever hit the Northeast. It caused 20,000 flights to be canceled, killed more than 100 people in 10 states, caused over $50 billion in property damage, knocked out power to 8.5 million residents in the Northeast, destroyed an estimated 250,000 automobiles and, hitting at high tide, destroyed long stretches of New Jersey Atlantic coastline and developments.
Burke’s oldest son, Doug, is now a practicing attorney in Cherry Hill, N.J., and he and his wife are expecting a baby. Mike graduated from Clemson and is the head golf professional at the Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., and assistant coach of the Navy Golf Team. Ryan just started his freshman year at Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.
“All three sons still participate in community service as an integral part of their lives. We are very proud of them all,” she said.
She said the family had minimal damage at the dealership where they just completed remodeling it and celebrating its 100th birthday.