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‘With us forever’

9/11 anniversary brings local residents sadness, and continued resolve to make the world better

Westborough resident Kate Kelleher, with a steel girder from ground zero, says she tries to dwell on the sense of unity after the 2001 attacks. Westborough resident Kate Kelleher, with a steel girder from ground zero, says she tries to dwell on the sense of unity after the 2001 attacks.
(Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Cindy Cantrell
Globe Correspondent / September 8, 2011

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I t has been 10 years since Kate Kelleher fled the horror and chaos of New York City’s financial district on Sept. 11, 2001, evacuating from her office next to the World Trade Center and walking miles to her apartment on the Upper East Side.

Yet the Shrewsbury native still finds herself replaying in her mind the events of the day and those that followed, when she learned that three close friends would never arrive home from their jobs inside the twin towers.

“A song, a smell, a phrase. The littlest thing can bring it all back,’’ said Kelleher, who returned to Boston in December 2001 and moved to Westborough four years ago. “Life goes on. People go on. But 9/11 will be with us forever.’’

After learning a year and a half ago about the formation of the Westborough 9/11 10th Anniversary Committee, Kelleher decided to become a part of what has evolved into a series of events commemorating the losses suffered by the nation and the local community. Westborough residents Robin Kaplan, 33, and Linda George, 27, were among the seven employees of Framingham-based TJX Cos. who were traveling for business on American Airlines Flight 11.

Events in Westborough will begin tomorrow with a weeklong public viewing of a steel beam from ground zero at the Forbes Municipal Building. Also tomorrow, a tree planting and the placement of a memorial plaque will take place at 10 a.m. at Westborough High School.

On Sunday, all the town’s church bells will ring in unison at 8:46 a.m., the time at which Flight 11 struck the north tower. At 3 p.m., volunteers will place approximately 300 luminaries - each with 10 names of those killed on Sept. 11 - at Westborough High’s Joe Mewhiney Field. Committee members and volunteers will read the names of the victims at 4 p.m.

At 7 p.m., members of the local Interfaith Clergy Association will lead a service with music directed by David Jost, fine arts director of the Westborough school system. The weekend’s events will close with the playing of taps.

Police Lieutenant Robert Fryer got the idea to bring a portion of ground zero to Westborough when he saw a monument incorporating a piece of the steel during a visit to the FBI headquarters in Virginia in September 2008.

After obtaining permission from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Fryer traveled with Westborough firefighter Patrick Cullen to pick up the 8-foot, 2,800-pound steel beam at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport Hangar 17 in September 2009. Since then, it has remained in storage at the town’s Department of Public Works, awaiting the construction of a permanent memorial.

“The thing that strikes me is how violent the experience must have been, because this is a very substantial steel beam and it has dents all over it,’’ Fryer said. “Every time I look at it, I think about the importance of that day and its impact on the whole country.’’

Kelleher was working in her Merrill Lynch office at Four World Financial Center - which was connected to the World Trade Center by a glass atrium - when the first plane hit.

She said the impact of Flight 11 sounded like “the loudest thunder you could ever hear,’’ and was followed by “scenes from a war zone, of people running and jumping for their lives.’’

However, she prefers to remember the sense of unity and kindness of strangers, one of whom hugged and reassured her, “We’re going to get through this. You’re going to get through this,’’ when she broke down in tears, Kelleher said.

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks, Kelleher said she doubted that she would ever smile, laugh, or live a normal life again. Since relocating to Massachusetts, however, she met her husband, Will, and they have three children: 5-year-old William, Caroline, 4, and Catherine, born Aug. 27.

As her children grow older, Kelleher said, she will share with them her memories and mementos from the infamous day, including newspapers, poems, and letters, and her planner on which she wrote the names and phone numbers of strangers whom she had promised to call with news of their loved ones as soon as she reached a telephone.

“I want my kids to know that life is fragile, and not to take friendships or family relations for granted. But for all the younger people, I hope this is a learning experience,’’ she said. “At the end of the day, we’re so fortunate to be Americans, to have liberty and freedom. We’re so fortunate to be here.’’

Michael Shain of Milford doesn’t have any direct ties to the military or the terrorist attacks that the nation will commemorate on Sunday.

He says being American is reason enough to show his appreciation for those who protect the nation’s freedom.

On the anniversary, Shain will host the fifth annual “Thanks to Yanks’’ dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. at VFW Post 1526, 123 Holliston St. in Medway. The nonpartisan event honors active service men and women, veterans, and their families - especially those who have suffered a loss - while paying tribute to the heroes and victims of the terrorist attacks.

The dinner grew from Shain’s efforts with the Boy Scouts 10 years ago to host a luncheon for veterans and their families, which continues to be held following the Memorial Day parade at the Italian American War Veterans Club Post 40 in Milford. He selected Sept. 11 as the date of the Thanks to Yanks dinner because the attacks precipitated the ongoing military presences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shain spends months fund-raising for the full-course dinner, which consists of salad, roasted chicken, vegetables, and dessert. He praises the generosity of individual and corporate donors, including the Hannaford grocery store in Milford and his employer, Charles River Bank in Medway.

Word of mouth drew 275 participants last year, and more are expected this year. Free child care will be overseen by Shane’s wife, Donnalee Shain, chairwoman of the physical therapy assistant program at Bay State College in Boston.

Participants are asked to bring an item for donation to Worcester-based Veterans Inc., which assists homeless veterans.

“We all have busy lives,’’ Shain said, “but there’s always time for a random act of kindness.’’

For more information, call Shain at 508-330-8487, e-mail info@thankstoyanks.org, or visit www.thankstoyanks.org.

Susan Retik of Needham said she doesn’t have “any special words of wisdom’’ to share as Sept. 11 approaches. She feels more emotional in the days surrounding each anniversary, but remains appreciative of the ongoing support from her friends, family, community, and strangers across the world.

This weekend, Retik will once again be giving back in honor of all those who “helped me move through such a tragic time in my life.’’ Her husband, David, was killed aboard Flight 11 when she was seven months pregnant with her third child.

She will lead the Beyond the Bike Ride, the signature fund-raising event of Beyond the 11th, which Retik helped launch with Wellesley resident Patti Quigley, whose husband, Patrick, lost his life on United Airlines Flight 175 when she was eight months pregnant with her second child.

Beyond the Bike Ride participants may register for the three-day Founders Ride, beginning tomorrow at ground zero in New York City; join the 25-mile Commemoration Ride on Sunday from Dover-Sherborn High School to the Charles River Esplanade in Boston; raise funds as a virtual rider; or sign up to volunteer.

A public ceremony, “Massachusetts Remembers,’’ will be held at the Hatch Memorial Shell in Boston from 3 to 5 p.m., with readings, poems, prayers, and performances by the Boston Pops Brass Ensemble and Boston Children’s Chorus. Cyclists in the Founders Ride will receive special seating.

Retik said she never set out to establish a nonprofit, but is proud that Beyond the 11th has raised more than $1 million for education, job training, and a support system for widows in Afghanistan since its inception in 2003.

Program graduates have started businesses raising and selling eggs, managing dairy cows and selling milk, stitching regulation soccer balls, weaving and selling hand-knotted rugs, and becoming certified rural birth assistants. In 2009, Beyond the 11th funded the construction of a women’s center with a library, playground, and laundry facility.

Retik, whose 2006 trip with Quigley to Afghanistan is the subject of Beth Murphy’s award-winning documentary “Beyond Belief,’’ thinks improving the quality of life for Afghan widows and their children will have a far-reaching impact.

“I’m not naive enough to think I can change the country of Afghanistan, but I do know I can affect the lives of the women benefiting from the grants and give their children opportunities they did not have,’’ said Retik, who married Donald Ger in 2006. Two years later, the couple welcomed a daughter, Rebecca, who joined siblings Ben, Molly, and Dina.

“So much has changed as a result of 9/11,’’ she added. “My wish is to get back to the kindness we had toward one another. We still have an opportunity to rise above. I want to stay in that place.’’

For more information about Beyond the 11th, call 781-465-6464, e-mail info@beyondthe11th.org, or visit its website, www.beyondthe11th.org.

Loretta Filipov of Concord doesn’t plan to dwell on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. It will simply be another day missing her husband, who died on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center.

Instead, she prefers to recognize the anniversary of the Al Filipov Peace and Justice Forum, which she established as a living memorial to her husband in September 2002.

This year’s free event will take place on Wednesday, 7 to 8 p.m., at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord. Keynote speaker the Rev. James Forbes, senior emeritus minister of Riverside Church in New York City, will be presented with the first Al Filipov Peace and Justice Award for his role in establishing the Healing of the Nations Foundation.

The day of the forum would have been Loretta and Al’s 54th wedding anniversary; one of their sons, David, is an editor and reporter at the Globe.

“The events of Sept. 11 were tragic, but I focus on the work,’’ said Loretta, noting that 10 years ago she made a conscious choice not to remain angry, knowing that’s what Al would have wanted.

While the forum is named for her husband, Loretta insists it has never been about him or the manner in which he died. For that reason, she hopes that people will come with an open heart and mind, ask questions, and “go out and do something good’’ with their knowledge.

“I want the forum to go on in perpetuity, until all nations can resolve their differences by talking rather than war. That’s a lot to ask for, but we’re better than what we’re made out to be. So we move forward to make a better world.’’

For more information about the Al Filipov Peace and Justice Forum, call 978-369-4837 or visit www.alfilipov.org.