Ben McCarthy, his brother Nate McCarthy and Anders Fleming played music together for about a year and a half, but they didn’t feel like a band until Jesse Yanko joined them on bass.
The members of Regret the Hour were a bit nervous and just starting their first live show together a few years ago when Ben McCarthy looked over at his band’s newest member. Yanko smiled, McCarthy smiled. It was a moment they’d share plenty over the next two years as they played together.
Now, McCarthy will have to relive those thousands of smiles over from memory, as Yanko died on Nov. 28 from cancer. Yanko, 16, was a Nyack High School student, along with McCarthy. On Monday, more than 100 people stood in the stands at MacCalman Field to remember and honor Yanko. McCarthy spoke about getting to know Yanko during the last two years of his life.
“Jesse was never the type of person who wanted to be pitied for his illness,” McCarthy said. “He joked about it, shook it off and the general sentiment among all of us was that we were brothers, we’ll get through this together. So today, I don’t want to talk about cancer or illness. Today I want to talk about music, about brotherhood, about friendship and about family.”
Another speaker, Adam Beirlein, coached Yanko for two years on the Nyack High School JV soccer team.
“He led by example. He expected everyone to give their best by his example, and everyone did,” Beirlein said. “He earned a strong respect from his teammates during the preseason and he was unanimously voted team captain. Jesse was a natural leader.”
Corinne Casolaro, Nyack High School Study Body vice president, said the event came together in about a week. She thanked the rest of the student body and school board for helping to organize everything so quickly. During the ceremony, the high school advanced chorus class and jazz band both performed. Casolaro said both were asked less than a week ago to perform.
White candles were also sold during the ceremony, with all proceeds going to the Making Headway Foundation at the request of the Yanko family. The Making Headway Foundation is dedicated to helping families with children who have brain or spinal cord tumors.
“We wanted to have an event for all of us to honor Jesse,” Casolaro said. “He was such a big part of this community, of this school. We thought it’d be a nice gesture to have this event to honor him opposed to maybe overwhelming his family by all going to the funeral and burial.”
Despite dropping temperatures and light rain, once the ceremony ended, nobody budged from the stands. The crowd stood in silence, blocking their lit candles from the rain. After a few more minutes of silence to honor Yanko, the crowd started to disperse. Three classmates stuck their candles in the grass at the 50-yard line of the football field and many watched as they remained propped up and burned for a few more minutes. After, most people left the bleachers, some wiping away tears, but certainly many thinking of how to remember Yanko in their own way.
“Most of all, we miss getting up on stage together and playing music, looking over at you and having you grin back,” McCarthy said. “There are no words, no words to describe the dull, ceaseless ache, the hollow hole that is left in all of us. But when the music comes on, for those four minutes, it’s as if we’re together again and all the pain and heartache is no more. Just four brothers wasting the night away with a song.”