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78 years later, agent honored for death

Donella Vidmar Lewis is presented with the original 48-star flag that draped her father's casket 78 years ago during a ceremony honoring him at Beaver Island State Park today.(James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

GRAND ISLAND -- Everything Donella Vidmar Lewis knew about her father she kept in a cedar chest at her home in Waban, Mass.

There were photographs, love letters to her mother and newspaper clippings from the day Frank Vidmar Jr. died in March 1932 while on duty in Niagara County as a U.S. Border Patrol inspector.

Then a phone call came from 500 miles away.

A family history enthusiast had tracked down Lewis and her family on behalf of the U.S. Border Patrol Buffalo Sector.

"It was just one of the most exciting and gratifying things that has ever happened to me," said Lewis, who never met her father. "It means a great deal, especially to my family."

Lewis and nearly two dozen members of the Vidmar family traveled to Grand Island this morning for a formal dedication of a memorial in Beaver Island State Park to Frank Vidmar Jr., the only local border agent killed in the line of duty in the sector's history.

Vidmar died in 1932 -- eight months after joining the patrol -- when a car he was riding in during a high-speed chase from Lewiston to Niagara Falls crashed into a trolley car.

Vidmar and his partner were chasing three known rum runners when their car slid on the icy road into the trolley.

What members of the U.S. Border Patrol Buffalo Sector never knew was that Vidmar's wife, Ruth, was pregnant at the time of his death.

Ruth Vidmar, who never remarried, raised Donella in Ohio. They later moved to Massachusetts, where the Vidmars live today.

It was Dave Clark, park manager of Beaver Island State Park, who tracked down Lewis and her family using just three names: Frank Vidmar Jr., his father and Ruth Vidmar.

Six years ago, Buffalo members of the Border Patrol dedicated a patrol vessel in honor of Vidmar. 

Today was the first chance they got to pay tribute to his family. The memorial sits in a new perennial garden with bright red, purple and pink flowers in Beaver Island State Park along the West River. 

"We're a very close knit organization, and we take care of each other," said Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Stuart Woodside. "Eternally, he will always be a member of the border patrol family."

--Denise Jewell Gee

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