Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Families of 9/11 Victims Celebrate Lives While Commemorating Loss
Saturday, September 11, 2010
On this ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, many family members of the victims are attending the annual reading of the names at the World Trade Center site today. For some, this mass gathering provides a source of comfort and support. But there are those who find other ways of commemorating their loved ones.
In Jackson Heights, Tanya Villanueva Tepper hung a poster of a handsome young man with the words "Embracer of life, Native Argentinian, fantastic cook, and life of the party" outside her gift store on 37th Avenue and 80th Street. He was Sergio Gabriel Villenueva, a firefighter who lost his life on September 11th - and her finance.
"We owned 'Inner Peace', a Jackson Heights gift shop together," Tepper says. "So every year for the anniversary I come and put a new poster up here as well as Ground Zero and a street sign at Flushing. Just so people remember a face, a person. It was such a big event, I think and a lot of the personal stories got lost."
Nine years have passed and Tanya says she has gone forward with her life. She is now married and has two daughters.
"But with the anniversary, you know, you still remember and I'll always remember I'll never forget the pain of the day and the months that followed," Tepper says. "I think people should always remember it was a horrible, senseless act of violence that should have never happened and that almost three thousand people were killed - and for what?"
Many family members have established rituals that help them make it through the day. Paula Berry lives in Brooklyn. She lost her husband David, who worked on the 89th floor of the South Tower, on September 11th. She and her three sons remember him every year with a kind of picnic in Prospect Park.
"Our neighbors planted a tree on David's behalf in the park and before entering the park we stop at a deli and pick up David's favorite snack," Berry says. "He grew up in Oklahoma, it's a very odd snack which he ate every day: Dr. Pepper and saltines. So we would pick up Dr. Pepper and saltines and take them to the tree and of course feed the tree Dr. Pepper and saltines.
Berry says that her son, now a freshman in college, will not be in New York to commemorate the day this year. But Berry says he has taken the tradition with him.
"It was just so sweet today. I spoke with him and asked him what he was going to do," she says, "and he said 'without a doubt, Mom, I'm going to go find a thin and happy looking tree and I'm going to feed it Dr. Pepper and saltines."
Some people have found more public ways of remembering their loved ones. Jay Winuk founded the non-profit organisation My Good Deed in honor of his brother Glen - an attorney and volunteer firefighter who died trying to provide emergency assistance at the South Tower. The organisation worked to establish September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, which was signed into law in 2009. Jan Winuk says he will be doing his part to fulfill that pledge this Saturday.
"I will be with about 100 other volunteers, helping to beautify a school on the Lower East side and making care packages for troops overseas. It is therapeutic for me and if even one person can be helped in his name, then that is good," Winuk says.
Winuk started out the day at the 9/11 Memorial Celebrations, which were held at the World Trade Center site, where family members and friends read the names of the victims that died in the attack. Rosemary Cain travels from Long Island each year to visit Ground Zero on the anniversary, where her firefighter son George died. She calls the site the closest thing to a cemetery. Even after nine years of ceremonies, she thinks events and commemorations should continue at the site of the World Trade Center.
"I think it's important to be there on that day, I think it's a very sacred place," Cain says. "Hopefully the services will continue on and people will be remembered with respect and love and honor, because that's where they died and they deserve to be remembered and have that respect. I think we have to make an effort every year to honor the people that were murdered that day because it keeps people aware. And I think we have an obligation to our country and to the victims of September 11th to make sure that this never happens again."
Janice Hazelcorn was at the service this morning as well. Her son, Scott Hazelcorn, was working at Cantor Fitzgerald inthe North Tower on September 11th, but had been considering a career change - he wanted to work with children. She started the Scott Hazelcorn Children's Foundation, which reaches out to children who have lost loved ones.
"I know it is corny, but I truly hear him say 'Awesome Mom!'," Hazelcorn says. "He always wanted to make the people around him happy. We called him the Pied Piper."
Hazelcorn says that the memorial is important. But the best part of the day will come on Satuday afternoon -- at a celebration her son Scott Hazelcorn, would have enjoyed much more.
"We honor him by having all of his friends, and his friends children, and my close friends come to our house for a barbeque and wiffleball tournament," Hazelcorn says. "That's something he did on his birthday ever year. So we decided instead of mourning that day, we would remember how lucky we were to have him in our lives and share his stories. So that's what we do, every 9/11."
Reporting for this story was contributed by Beth Fertig, Cindy Rodriguez and Janaya Williams.