Daughters’ tragic deaths spur arts programs in their memory

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Matthew Badger, father of three daughters who died in a Stamford, Conn. house fire last Christmas returned to Shelter Island last week to raise money for a foundation honoring the girls’ love of the arts.

It was with a heavy heart but wonderful memories that Matthew Badger returned last Thursday to Shelter Island — the site of many happy days spent with his daughters. The girls — Lily, 9, and twins Sarah and Grace, 7 — died in an early Christmas Day fire at their mother’s home in Stamford, Connecticut.

Madonna Badger, the girls’ mother, survived the blaze that also killed her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson.

On Thursday night, Mr. Badger came back to the Island where he and his daughters had shared a love of swimming, fishing and other summer activities, to attend a fund raiser for the LilySarahGrace Fund that he founded last January to provide money for underfunded arts programs in public schools throughout the country.

The girls were very creative and Mr. Badger wanted a means of memorializing them while helping other children with artistic abilities.

Cash-strapped school districts have generally cut programs in the arts first, Mr. Badger said.

Thursday’s fundraiser — organized by Clora Skibeli, Renee Barletta, Susan Petrie-Badertscher and Pom Shillingford at the residence of Helge and Clora Skibeli in Dering Harbor — raised $8,000 plus additional contributions pledged on the website at, Ms. Petrie-Badertscher said.

That will fund four or five projects that reach about 150 students, Mr. Badger said. Approximately 40 people attended the Thursday night event.

“People were incredibly touched” by the presentation, Ms. Petrie-Badertscher said.

Mr. Badger was quick to point out that at least 50 percent of the money the fund has raised in the past eight months didn’t come from donors with deep pockets. There were contributions of $5 from people throughout the country who heard about the fund through its website. One young man sent money he had received at his Bar Mitzvah, while another child sent proceeds from a lemonade stand, Mr. Badger said.

Since January, the fund has dedicated $280,000 to pay expenses for creative programs in schools around the country, Mr. Badger said. Teachers submit applications through the website for funding various programs and a panel of teachers selects those it believes are most deserving.

For the full story about the fund and the girls’ days on Shelter Island, see Thursday’s Reporter.