Remembering that tragic day
A civilian's remains are recoveed at Ground Zero in Spring 2002. Former Barrington resident Gary Marlon Suson, now living in New York, shot photos at Ground Zero in the months after the terrorist attacks. | Photo by Gary Marlon Suson /Ground Zero Museum
• Buffalo Grove: The village is inviting all to a commemorative event in observance of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 events.
The program will honor individuals who lost their lives and recognize the commitment of emergency responders.
The program begins at 3 p.m. Sunday in the auditorium of Buffalo Grove High School, 1100 W. Dundee Road.
Village President Jeffrey Braiman will lead the program, which will feature the performance of the Buffalo Grove Symphonic Band playing “The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, Armed Forces Salute, Amazing Grace” and more. A Lincoln Portrait will be performed by the band and narrated by guest Wayne Messmer. Guest presentations will include Congressman Robert Dold and Brigadier Gen. Gracus K. Dunn, commanding general of the 85th Support Command of the Army.
The Buffalo Grove Police and Fire departments will provide a combined Honor Guard, and the Fire Department will conduct a bell ceremony in remembrance of the 343 firefighters who answered their last alarm that morning.
The event is free and open to the public. The program is jointly presented by Buffalo Grove, the Buffalo Grove Symphonic Band and Buffalo Grove Arts Commission.
For information, contact Ghida Neukirch, deputy village manager, at (847) 459-2518 or email@example.com.
• Lincolnshire: The Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District will unveil its tribute to the victims of the World Trade Center collapse during its memorial at 10 a.m. Sept. 10 at its headquarters, 115 Schelter Road, Lincolnshire.
The tribute includes showing a steel beam from one of the towers.
For information, call (847) 634-2512.
Updated: November 5, 2011 1:42PM
Out of 6 billion people, only a few dozen knew it was not going to be just another Tuesday.
As the work day began on Sept. 11, 2001, officials in Buffalo Grove Village Hall were still wrapping up the loose ends of the Labor Day festival. In Long Grove, business owners were preparing for the start of the fall festival season. The local school districts were trying to corral their students for a fresh new year.
Lake County Board Chairman David Stolman, who was then Buffalo Grove’s representative on the Lake County Board, was driving up to Waukegan for a meeting. He wondered how his son and daughter, both living and working in New York City, were doing that morning.
Buffalo Grove Village President Jeff Braiman, then a member of the Village Board and still an attorney, was headed to the courthouse, for a trial.
Bruce Lubin, president of the Stevenson School Board, was sitting in his office at a bank in downtown Chicago. Brett Blomberg, mayor of Lincolnshire, was at home.
Karen Schmidt, then the head of the Visitor’s Bureau for Long Grove and now a village trustee, was listening to the radio while getting ready for work. The New Jersey native has family all around New York.
Terry Vavra, chief of the Buffalo Grove Fire Department, was working for the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District at the time, but he was getting ready for a vacation. He had married the girl of his dreams on Sept. 12, 1981, and to celebrate their 20th anniversary, Vavra and wife, Kris, were going to fly to Sandoval Island, Fla. on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.
No one’s day went as planned.
“It’s a whole different society now,” said Schmidt.
Merv Roberts, the man with the longest tenure in public office in Lincolnshire, was and is a Stevenson School Board member.
In the days before text-messaging and social media — in the days when many people did not have mobile phones — Roberts was working at his computer when he saw an e-mail from the school.
It said to turn on the TV. Quite an unusual message for a Tuesday morning.
Lubin was sitting in a loan committee meeting, and the chairman of the board bursted in. Uncommon.
Blomberg happened to turn on his TV, at the same time that his phone rang. Weird.
Schmidt, Stolman and Braiman were all listening to their radios when someone came on with “breaking news from New York.”
In the Vavra home, Terry’s mother-in-law started yelling at him — about Dr. Phil. She was staying in their house for the week to watch the kids and dogs, and she got pretty excited whenever Oprah had this new guy called Dr. Phil on.
“As if I really cared,” Vavra confessed. “But, she’s my mother-in-law, I had to listen.”
But Dr. Phil was not on for long.
Stolman, like millions, assumed the impact into the first World Trade Center tower was an accident. His daughter was a producer for MSNBC, and he knew she would be working on this story all day.
Few Americans had ever heard of al Queda.
Before that morning, some would have guessed it was a European cheese.
By noon, they were world infamous.
Lubin was in a skyscraper. Near two of America’s most revered skyscrapers.
Schmidt was supposed to have a busy day: a motor coach filled with senior citizens was coming to the shops of downtown Long Grove. She had a hard time concentrating.
“Were any of my kids in that building?” she wondered.
Stolman held the same fear. He found out later that his son was on a balcony at his advertising company’s building, looking at the first plane’s impact.
“The second plane literally came right past their noses,” he said.
Vavra and Blomberg watched the burning buildings on their TVs, but they were both looking for clues. Blomberg is a mechanical engineer, and he knew enough about buildings to know what was about to happen.
“I remember talking to someone on the phone and looking at the TV and saying ‘That thing is going to come down,’” he said.
Blomberg pointed out that the most effective way to extinguish a chemical fire, like burning jet fuel, is with a foam suppressant. Water will only spread the flames.
Vavra watched as the black smoke turned into the white steam he sees all the time, when his men start dousing a structure fire with water.
“I was thinking of the firemen,” Vavra said.
Then live television broadcast the changing of the world.
“There’s a lot of blur for me,” Vavra said. “Total disbelief.”
Retreat versus resolve
The Federal Aviation Administration was ordering every plane in the United States onto the ground — but few people in downtown Chicago knew that.
Lubin and other leaders at the bank let their employees go home if they wished.
He said they wanted to leave too.
“It crossed our minds,” he said. “Everything crosses your mind at that point.”
“Many of us believed this was the panic the terrorists wanted us to feel,” Lubin said. “We didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.”
Miles away, no one feared that Long Grove would be the next terrorist target; Schmidt had arrived at work, the tourists were still on their way, but the employees at the Visitor’s Bureau wanted to be with their families.
“We weren’t going home early — uh-uh,” Schmidt decreed. “They probably thought I was the Wicked Witch.
“In a minor way, that was our defiance.”
Buffalo Grove’s Braiman made it to Waukegan, but the judge had cancelled his entire call for the day.
Vavra’s vacation was history.
Lubin went down to the street, walked to a drug store and bought a $39 television. He then went back up to his office and, with one eye on the news, tried to get some work done.
In terms of practicals, life in the northwest suburbs is pretty much the same as it was 10 years ago.
“On a day-to-day basis, it hasn’t had much of an effect,” said Braiman.
“Other than the memory, I don’t think this has affected Lincolnshire very much,” Mayor Blomberg added.
Long Grove, however, has been hit. Schmidt noted tourists do not come around as much as they used to — some are still afraid to travel.
“We had a thriving motor coach business before that,” which she said has dropped about 40 percent. “It surely is a different little town now than it was back in 2001.”
Stevenson’s Roberts noted that from school districts’ perspectives, Sept. 11 is the little brother of the Columbine massacre of 1999. The biggest change that terrorism has brought to the classrooms, he said, is a nationwide interest in moving away from fossil fuel toward renewable energy.
“That’s where our Green Committee came in,” he said. “That has certainly gotten more focus since 9/11.”
Lubin said it made promotion of diversity a higher priority.
“It has made us very aware of the differences in culture, and that has helped on the academic side,” he said.
They and Lake County’s Stolman agreed that the event made surveillance of public places an urgent matter.
“Look what happened to building security,” said Stolman, who passes through more security on his way to work today than he did 10 years ago. “It makes you want to always be prepared.”
Braiman said organizing public events is more expensive now because of the need for security.
“We have to be even more diligent in our planning,” he said.
After the attacks, Benedictine University created a scholarship for first-responders. Vavra took advantage of the new funding source.
“I have a master’s degree right now because of the education I was afforded through the generosity of people at that time,” he said.
But some worry about what has happened to America’s soul.
“I think as a nation, we lost our confidence,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think we’ve ever gotten that back.”
“I’d never felt in jeopardy on my own soil,” Lubin recalled.
“What do you learn from that?” Stolman asked. “I don’t know. There’s no such thing as ‘What used to be.’”
Terry and Kris Vavra went to Sandoval Island the next July, and brought the kids.
For their 30th anniversary, they are planning a trip to Charleston, S.C.
Schmidt’s children have married into families of Sept. 11 victims. In the weeks after the attacks, one of her cousins had to attend 20 funerals.
Stolman flew to New York as soon as he could get a ticket — weeks later — to see his kids. He said he has since discovered what the nation might gain from its loss.
“What we learned, what’s real important?” he asked. “Families are important.”
“It truly changed everybody I know, to think about what’s truly important,” Vavra said. “If there could be a good from this bad, I think that’s what it is.”
“We’re the best country in the world,” Stolman said. “We’re a resilient people.”