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Renamed lane honors soldier killed in Iraq

Candlelight Lane will become a street of memories for the family and friends of Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert V. Derenda.

For others who drive and walk down the street connecting Harlem Road and Girard Avenue, it will become a lasting memorial to the Cheektowaga native who was killed Aug. 5, when his truck was struck by a fuel tanker in Iraq.

The Cheektowaga Town Board Monday named the street R.V. Derenda Lane, a tribute to the 42-year-old man who used to walk down the street several times a day to school at St. Josaphat Catholic Church on William and Peoria streets.

"Who would have thought it would be named for him?" said Derenda's father, Valerian. "Life is unpredictable."

Derenda's mother, Loretta, said the family has been comforted by many caring people in the community.

"It's been seven months," she said. "We felt so honored they are doing this."

Derenda was a drill sergeant and coaxed the best out of his recruits, his parents said. Since his death, they have met many in the military with whom he came in contact. One young woman came to his wake, telling his parents he was her first drill sergeant.

The Derendas went to greet members of his division when they came home, a month after his death. Derenda said his son was supposed to drive in the third Humvee in a convoy, and he offered to switch with the driver of the first one, because that man had children. When Valerian Derenda and the soldier who would have been killed met, neither could talk, he said.

"He had a great impact on many people he met," Derenda said of his son.

And their son was a man of few words, they recalled.

"He spent two years in Korea. We asked him how it was. He said, 'Fine,' " Mrs. Derenda said.

They drive down R.V. Derenda Lane every day, and when they walk to church, they walk the same steps their son took to school for eight years.

"We'll probably never move with the name being there," Mrs. Derenda said with a chuckle.

The Derendas share the bond of losing a child with the family of Sgt. Cari Anne Gasiewicz of Cheektowaga, who was killed in Iraq Dec. 4, 2004. The Town Board changed the name of Bordeaux Drive, near Gasiewicz's childhood home, to Cari Lane. And the final step in changing Candlelight Lane to R.V. Derenda Lane is the Traffic Safety Commission. Cari Anne's father, Paul Gasiewicz, is a member of the commission.

The Derendas also have visited the families who have lost soldiers since their son's death. It's something they want to do, because others did it for them, they said.

A ceremony to unveil the new street name is planned for May 20.

"For us, it's a street of memories," Valerian Derenda said.


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