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Bonding with Grandma; Wife of GCHS Alumni Al Carelli

SITE EDITOR'S NOTE: The article below is about Marti Carelli-Gilbert, the widow of Al Carelli, who started Grandma's Camp after Al died on the jet carrying the Marshall University football team and coaching staff crashed. As you know there was a movie released last year in theaters "We Are Marshall" that tells the story about that horrific event.  Al was born and raised in Audubon, NJ and was a graduate of Gloucester Catholic High School, Class of 1961.

read more about Al Carelli 

Tennessean, Tuesday, 11/14/2006 Source

Widow tries to turn tragedy into camp where kids can get to know grandparents

Senior Writer

The dream that will become Grandma's Camp, where grandparents and grandchildren will share a week together, sprang from a nightmare.

At 7:37 p.m. on Nov. 14, 1970, a jet carrying the Marshall University football team and coaching staff crashed two miles short of the airport in Huntington, W.Va., where they were returning after a football game at East Carolina University.

All 37 players, 12 coaches and university staff, five crew members and 21 boosters died.

The tragedy is revisited in the upcoming movie "We Are Marshall," which details the university's phoenix-like rise from the ashes of despair.

And each time the promotional trailers flash on the screen of the Murfreesboro movie theater where she works, Marti Carelli-Gilbert is reminded of her season of pain.

"It gave me chills," she says of the sequence inside the cabin before the crash. "By where he was sitting, I could tell which actor was supposed to be Al."

She's talking about her husband, Al Carelli, Thundering Herd offensive line coach, whose death was the catalyst, three-plus decades later, for the Grandma's Camp concept.

"I have nine grandchildren and four of them are Al's," says Carelli-Gilbert, 27 when widowed with two young sons. "Al never got the chance to know his grandchildren.

"I want other grandparents to know their grandchildren," she says, explaining her motivation for the camp.

The plan is to bring generation's together, putting grandparents with grandchildren, for a week of outdoor activities, learning adventures and story-telling. And though the nonprofit is "Grandma's Camp" — Carelli-Gilbert is a grandmother — she wants grandpas there as well.

Putting those generations together to share values and time "does sound like a good idea to me," says Kathryn B. Sherrod, a clinical psychologist whose work at Counseling Associates of Green Hills includes a good bit of family counseling. Grandparents have much to offer in an era when parents are so busy with work, and children are over occupied with video games and computers. Current realities make that shared time more difficult to find.

"Families don't live as close to each other as they used to," Sherrod says. "Children used to have constant contact with their grandparents."

Interaction with grandparents helps build memories and establish values. "I think we need more time for families to spend together without the children being passively entertained. The way (Grandma's Camp) sounds, these children are going to be actively entertained doing things where they have to participate," Sherrod says, adding that she hopes the camp might be a place where grandparents bring children from far away to do things they'd do if they lived next-door.

"I think it would be helpful to have as part of the camp the importance of grandparents not to spoil these kids too much," she says.

Right now, the focus is on coming up with the right property, preferably in Middle Tennessee. "All we need is someone to donate 100 acres of land," Carelli-Gilbert says.

When she's not out raising awareness for Grandma's Camp, she's an instructor at the Red Cross, teaches the Spirits alcohol-awareness program in Chattanooga and Nashville and works at the Wynnsong 16 Carmike Cinema in Murfreesboro, where she first saw the film trailers depicting her husband's death.

The hubbub over the film, which stars Matthew McConaughey, is a mixed blessing. Yes, it gives her one more reason to talk about the origins of the camp. But it also forces her to retreat mentally 36 years to the evening her college sweetheart died.

Her 1990 book "Halftime" tells the story of that love and its tragic ending. In one passage she describes the rawness of her emotions after learning of the crash: "A tingling, empty feeling rushed through my body, and the tears didn't help to ease the pain. I knew Al was gone; that I would never see him smiling and happy again, or feel the touch of his lips or hands. He would never be a head coach or grow old. He would never see his children grow up into men, or bounce their children upon his knees . . . ."

That last sentence pretty much tells the hope for Grandma's Camp.

Carelli-Gilbert — who lives in the Cannon County community Auburntown with a house full of animals — says the camp is one more step in a life that has traveled "from tragedy to triumph."

"It wasn't until year 2000 that I came to terms with my grief," the twice-divorced widow says. Her second marriage lasted 18 years and produced another child. They adopted a fourth. Her third marriage failed after seven years.

"I was in denial for many, many years," she says. "I made good decisions and not-so-good decisions."

Her grandchildren helped her make the decision to pursue a camp. "I was taking two of my grandchildren, Skye and Seth, on a hike. Skye says to me, 'Grandma, what does a hike look like?' "

"I realized what an influence I had on my grandchildren," Carelli-Gilbert says.

And she wanted to share that epiphany by creating an environment where grandparents could bounce grandchildren on their knees, tell stories around the campfire, hike, carve, ride horses and bond. "The idea is to help children develop their values," she says.

Carelli-Gilbert, 63, hopes other camps will spring up around the country. "If it wasn't for Al dying, this never would have happened. His death wasn't for nothing." •



Marti Carelli-Gilbert of Cannon County enjoys spending time with her grandchildren. Here she poses with three of them, from left, siblings Savannah, 9, Seth, 12, and Skye Carelli, 13. The three are also grandchildren of late Marshall University offensive line coach Al Carelli. The fact that he never got to see his grandchildren inspires his widow to push for Grandma's Camp. (PHOTOS BY ALAN POIZNER/FOR THE TENNESSEAN)



Marshall University offensive line coach Al Carelli, with headset, and head coach Rick Tolley are on the sidelines in 1970. Marti Carelli-Gilbert isn't sure, but she believes this to be the last home game for the Marshall team that died in the airplane crash.


Totem pole rules Grandma's Camp

The totem pole is the heartbeat of the camp. Each symbol on the totem pole represents a learning block for the day at camp. For example, there's a watchman that represents the first responders who will visit camp one day to teach the children and adults to trust and respect the professionals who save lives. Other icons represent such things as building memories, survival and family values.

The camp is planned as an ADA-compliant, nonprofit venture, and organizers will offer a sliding-scale fee to "make sure no one is left out," according to founder Marti Carelli-Gilbert.

The property will be utilized during the summer by the camp itself, which will be offered in one-week installments, but plans are to make it available to nonprofits for retreats and other programs in the off-season.

For information, contact Carelli-Gilbert at 615-631-6268 or visit www.Grandmas Carelli-Gilbert's book "Halftime," which tells of her love for Al Carelli and dealing with her grief after he died in the Marshall airplane tragedy, can be ordered for $10 plus $2.50 for shipping by using a form available on the "inspiration" page of that Web site. Proceeds go to Grandma's Camp.


Related:  ..........November 14, 1970......Remembered      Link to Grandma's Camp

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