The Ronan Park Multicultural Festival this year likely would have been marked with a somber tribute to John Beresford, who was killed there in May trying to stop a pair of muggers.
Beresford had, after all, been one of an earnest band of neighbors who came together to push the Park on its ascent, forming the Friends of Ronan Park, planting greenery, organizing the festival, which, since its inception in 1994, has been a summer highlight of that neighborhood. It was scheduled this year for Saturday, August 6.
But Beresford's death, and other violence riddling Dorchester this summer, has sapped and dispirited organizers, some of them his closest friends, and no one else has stepped into the void, leaving Ronan Park without its signature summer celebration for the first time in 11 years.
"No one felt comfortable inviting the community to come out in a situation where we couldn't predict everything that was going to happen," said Larysa Kulynich, who along with Beresford and his partner, Adam Greenfield, formed the spine of the Friends of Ronan Park. "There was just a lot of unease that didn't exist in prior years. There was always unease, but it was at a level this year that it hadn't been before."
Kulynich said she didn't have the energy this year to spearhead the effort the way she has in the past, and several sources who have helped organize the festival in the past said they were disappointed that no other person or organization filled the breach.
"It's been a difficult year, and with the murder in Ronan Park, it was just the energy just wasn't there. The energy and the resources were not there," said Deilia Laing-Jackson, the owner of Geneva Balloons, who has contributed decorations for the event in the past. She added, "The neighborhood is going to miss it a great deal."
Frequently, the festival has served as an August respite during violent summers, and had never been the setting of the sort of incidents that have marred other such celebrations. But this year, with the neighborhood beset by shootings and stabbings, the atmosphere seemed too fraught with risk, Kulynich said.
"We weren't comfortable asking people to come to the park, given all the things that were happening in terms of broad daylight violence," said Kulynich, who was with Greenfield when the pair were mugged, their attackers confronted by Beresford as they sought to escape.
After Beresford's murder, neighbors surged in support for the park and the festival, but activists said the initial rally faded. At a June Friends of Ronan Park meeting, fewer than 20 people attended, and the July meeting to lay final plans for the festival drew even fewer.
Since the first Ronan Park festival in 1994, initiative has shifted from City Hall efforts to a coalition of local non-profits to, during the last few years, the small but energetic Friends group. With the group devastated by the loss of a well-liked member this year, none of the other stakeholders leapt to replace their efforts.
"It really needed to be a more community-driven event," Kulynych, who along with Greenfield co-chairs the Friends group.
Early Monday evening, few people lounged in the heat across the 11-acre park. A Comcast film crew was setting up to film a Yawkey League baseball game. The day before, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, the city's Parks and Recreation Department, Dorchester House, and SCI-Dorchester had sponsored a production of "Romeo and Juliet." And Mayor Thomas M. Menino came out on July 28 to tout the installation of two 24-hour police call boxes, safety measures that some residents said they found encouraging.
Evandro Fonseca used to come to the festival when he lived on Westville Street as a teenager. Commuting now from Brockton to his salad-bar job at Lambert's on Morrissey Boulevard, he still drops by the park on his day off to play basketball with friends. Lounging on a bench there Monday, Fonseca, 24, said he was disappointed the festival had been canceled.
"I know a lot of friends who wanted to come to that," he said. "It kind of sucks for us."