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Silver Ridge’s favorite pets stretch their fins in new digs

Steve Conolly, of Steve’s Aquarium Service, cleans the inside wall of the aquarium at Silver Ridge Elementary School with a magnetic algae pad. The bright orange gold fish Pumpkin swims by enjoying his new, larger home, which Conolly volunteered to set up for free when he found out the tank was to be dedicated to the memory of a student and her younger sister. - Photo by Valentina Petrova
Steve Conolly, of Steve’s Aquarium Service, cleans the inside wall of the aquarium at Silver Ridge Elementary School with a magnetic algae pad. The bright orange gold fish Pumpkin swims by enjoying his new, larger home, which Conolly volunteered to set up for free when he found out the tank was to be dedicated to the memory of a student and her younger sister.
— image credit: Photo by Valentina Petrova

Silver Ridge Elementary School has always had an aquarium. When the school first opened in 1990, it came with a 15-gallon tank. Its origin remains a mystery even to some of the teachers who were around since the very first day of school.

At this school year’s first day, an aquarium 10 times larger welcomed students, staff and visitors. This one is less of a mystery. It was decommissioned from its decorative service at a bank and donated by an anonymous kindergarten parent last spring.

The generous gesture is no surprise as the original aquarium was a big hit.

“It was really a draw for the kids,” said first and second grade teacher Kathi White. “The fish grew and grew because they were so happy.”

But they needed more than just the students’ love and the lobby staff’s attention to thrive.

“Originally, it was by guess and by golly when it got cleaned,” White said about the small aquarium.

That’s when Steve Conolly came to the rescue.

About two years ago he refurbished the old aquarium and volunteered to take care of it. He says his Bremerton-based Steve’s Aquarium Service has several clients just down the road from Silver Ridge, so he started dropping by a few times a month to check on the tank’s single inhabitant at the time — a large bright orange goldfish dubbed Pumpkin by one of the students.

When the 150-gallon tank was donated, the Associated Student Body of Silver Ridge asked Conolly how much it would cost to set it up.

Before he gave them an estimate, though, tragedy struck. Second-grader Mercadez Hills-Krenzelok and her 5-year-old sister Jessica died in a fire in their home at the end of May 2005.

“The younger girl was always fascinated by the aquarium,” said Silver Ridge Principal Steve Anderson.

Both girls loved watching the fish, said White, who was Mercadez’s teacher.

So the newly-donated aquarium became the natural fit to serve as a token to remember the Krenzeloks by.

Conolly’s niece also was in White’s class at the time and told her uncle the school planned to dedicate the aquarium to her classmate and her sister.

“When I found out it was being memorialized, I said I’m not going to charge (the school),” Conolly said.

He set up the tank for free, complete with a green plaque dedicating it to the memory of the two girls, and had it ready by the first day of school.

Conolly never met Mercadez and Jessica’s family, but he knew he would at least help the school cope with the loss.

“I think that the kids need to remember their classmate,” he said.

Now he comes by every few weeks to restock the fish food out of his own supply and do whatever other upkeep is necessary.

“I’m charging them a pittance of $25 a month,” he said.

That was because of Anderson’s insistence that the ASB students sign a contract with Conolly and thus invest in the new aquarium.

“It is a little bit more work than it was before,” Conolly said, “but I enjoy coming out here.”

Pumpkin also is enjoying the larger swimming space.

The old aquarium was almost too small for Pumpkin alone, but when Anderson brought a few of his own goldfish to keep it company, Conolly scolded him. He quarantined the three newcomers to make sure they were healthy before joining Pumpkin.

“I chewed him out about it,” he said laughing about the principal’s well-intentioned contribution to the small aquarium. “I said ‘If you want me to take care of this tank ... don’t do that no more.’”

In the end, however, Conolly himself ended up adding a few more goldfish to Pumpkin and friends’ new home.

“The kids are into it which is kind of cool,” Conolly said.

He even receives Christmas cards from the students made of “construction paper cut out in the shape of a fish” and

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