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Memorial dedicated to border agent

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, in December, a phone call came from 500 miles away.

A family history enthusiast in Grand Island 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 was born several months after her father's death. "It means a great deal, especially to my family."

Lewis and nearly two dozen members of the Vidmar family traveled to Grand Island on Saturday for a formal dedication of a memorial in Beaver Island State Park to Frank Vidmar Jr.

Making the ceremony even more significant is the fact that Vidmar was the first and only U.S. Border Patrol agent to be killed in the Buffalo Sector while fulfilling his duties.

Vidmar, 31, died in 1932 when a car he was riding in during a chase from Lewiston to Niagara Falls crashed into a trolley car. Vidmar and his partner were chasing three rum smugglers 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.

Vidmar, a Navy veteran, had joined what was then known as the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's U.S. Border Patrol, Niagara Falls Sector, a year earlier.

Ruth Vidmar, who never remarried, raised Donella in Ohio. They later moved to Massachusetts.

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.

After finding an obituary for Ruth Vidmar, Clark started making calls. He connected with Lewis' granddaughter.

"We didn't know anybody was looking for us," Lewis said.

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

Sunday was the first chance they had to personally express gratitude to Vidmar's family. Ruth Vidmar, Frank's wife, died about a year ago.

The memorial sits in a new perennial garden with bright red, purple and pink flowers in Beaver Island State Park.

"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."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com