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Highway dedication honors pair of UP fallen firefighters

With the Forsyth Township Fire Department hosting the annual Upper Peninsula Volunteer Firefighters Association Tournament in Gwinn this past weekend, local and state officials formally honored Ben Lauren and Don Riling — the only two Forsyth Township firefighters who have passed away in the line of duty during the department’s 114-year history — with a memorial highway dedication.

Lauren, 23, of Gwinn, was fatally injured while fighting a structure fire at K.I. Sawyer on March 13, 2020. He was a captain at the Forsyth Township Fire Department and a third-generation volunteer firefighter. Riling was a professional firefighter with the U.S. Air Force and volunteer firefighter with the Forsyth Township Fire Department who died while fighting a house fire in the township on March 19, 1988.

To honor the two fallen firefighters, the portion of M-35 that passes through Forsyth Township was officially dedicated Saturday as the Ben Lauren and Don Riling Memorial Highway at a ceremony Saturday at Peter Nordeen Park in Gwinn.

State Sen. Ed McBroom, State Rep. Sara Cambensy, State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer and the Lauren and Riling families were expected to be on hand for the dedication. Brian Olson of the Pigs N’ Heat Benevolent Association will also be on hand for an additional presentation.

“Ben Lauren and Don Riling were fearless public servants who lost their lives while helping to save others,” McBroom previously said in a news release about memorial highway. “While there is nothing we can do to repay their sacrifice, designating the Ben Lauren and Don Riling Memorial Highway along M-35 will help honor their memory and ensure future generations are reminded of their selfless bravery.”

The highway dedication stems from a bill sponsored by McBroom. McBroom was joined at a committee hearing in June 2020 in support of the bill by Cambensy, D-Marquette, and by Marquette County Commissioner Bill Nordeen and Forsyth Township Supervisor Joe Boogren, who testified remotely.

“The idea for a highway memorial came from the heart of Forsyth Township — from the friends and firefighters who served with Ben Lauren, to Township Supervisor Joe Boogren, and Marquette County Commissioner Bill Nordeen, who also wanted to honor fallen firefighter Don Riling,” Cambensy said in a news release about the committee hearing. “This is the spirit of the greater Gwinn community coming together and honoring their commitment to never forget their hometown heroes who stepped up to serve. The Forsyth Fire Department has been through so much. I’m humbled to be able to help get this done for them in Lansing alongside Sen. McBroom.”

These two fallen heroes were tragically taken from their families, friends and communities far too soon. We commend all the parties involved for their efforts to memorialize these two men and ensure their legacies of service and sacrifice live on forever. They will never be forgotten.

— The Mining Journal, Marquette

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