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East Boston to remember 9/11

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  September 7, 2011 02:09 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

On Sunday, Piers Park will be the site of the 10th anniversary Community Memorial Service for the Victims of Sept. 11, 2001, followed by the ZUMIX’s Harvest Festival .

The memory of Sept. 11, 2001, lives on in East Boston, where the planes that struck the World Trade Center left Logan International Airport that morning, and where many airline employees have lived.

Neighborhood activist Fran Rowan remembers seeing her neighbor, a flight attendant from California, leave for work early that morning, unaware she would not return. And she remembers the neighborhood in the aftermath of the attacks, the eerie quiet as the airport remained shut down for days.

“I mean, people were standing around shell-shocked,” Rowan, 75, said in a phone interview. “It wasn’t just the crash. It was the aftermath of realizing that there were people from the community that were working and that were killed. … And then the whole economy of the neighborhood suffered greatly.”

Since then, East Boston has rebounded, and residents and elected officials have worked together to accomplish much, Rowan said: creating the East Boston Greenway, bringing the ZUMIX music program to new headquarters in a renovated firehouse, and building a new YMCA, among other accomplishments.

On Sept. 11, 2011, residents will commemorate that loss and celebrate the community’s resilience and the ongoing cycle of life, as Piers Park hosts a 10th anniversary Community Memorial Service for the Victims of Sept. 11, 2001, followed by ZUMIX’s annual Harvest Festival.

Rowan said the memorial grew out of those dark days in 2001. She had helped organize a fundraiser for the renovation of Meridian House, the drug treatment center operated by the North Suffolk Mental Health Association that now bears her name.

The event was set for Sept. 20, 2001, at the Hilton Boston Logan Airport Hotel, but after the attacks that hotel became a center for grief counseling, and many felt the event could not possibly go on.

Rowan was determined not to cancel. She felt North Suffolk’s work had to continue and that it should honor its contracts with vendors and provide the much-needed revenue to the community. The association’s chief executive officer said the event could go forward if Rowan persuaded the board of directors it was the right thing to do. One by one, she convinced a dozen board members.

But the most important approval was that of fellow Meridian House supporter Edie DeAngelis, whose beloved nephew had died on American Airlines Flight 11.

“[The CEO] agreed, ‘OK, if Edie DeAngelis says it’s OK, then it’s OK,’” Rowan recalled. “I met with her that day, and she said it was fine with her. She agreed with me that we should carry on.”

The fund-raiser went forward, though it was a more somber event than originally envisioned, Rowan said. But it was a sign that life would go on and that the hard work of improving East Boston must continue, she said. From there, the organization went on to raise $2.5 million for the renovation through a series of other events and through foundation grants. They broke ground on Sept. 12, 2003.

Rowan believes the success of that campaign helped unite residents and show others what East Boston was capable of accomplishing, that it helped clear a path to some other big successes in the past decade.

It also set a precedent for the community coming together to remember those lost on Sept. 11, so that in 2002, as ZUMIX’s annual post-Labor Day weekend Harvest Festival approached, it was decided that a memorial would be included.

The event started small but has grown every year, Rowan said, and every year neighborhood twins Ryan and Devon Sherman, now 13, have led the Pledge of Allegiance. This year’s event will also include appearances by local police and firefighters, presentation of the colors by the East Boston High School ROTC, patriotic songs sung by a women’s group from the East Boston YMCA, a poem read by a Meridian House resident, and an invocation and benediction by Brother Bob Metell from the Salesians of Don Bosco.

“We remind everybody that not only the victims who died, but the victims who are left are very important for us to remember and to offer prayers,” Rowan said.

Following the memorial, the Harvest Festival will include an apple-pie baking contest, vegetable and flower competitions, games, and other family activities. ZUMIX Battle of the Bands winner West Eagle Misifu will perform from 3 – 4 p.m., and salsa group Grupo Fantasia will perform from 4 – 6 p.m.

For more information, visit http://www.zumix.org/events.html.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox. Follow East Boston on Twitter: @EastBostonNews.

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