DECATUR — The two dozen Millikin University students and staff who gathered in Richards Treat University Center to remember 9/11 talked mostly about how terrifying it was.
St. Louis senior Matt Stuckel, 21, said he did not find out about the terrorist attacks on the East Coast until that evening and it wasn’t until the next day that a local radio station had erroneously reported that a plane was headed for the Gateway Arch.
But he will never forget what he saw as he and his classmates prepared to cross a busy street to go back into their Catholic elementary school after attending morning Mass.
“All of a sudden, all the cars stopped, and people were just jumping out and running into the nearest building,” he recalls. “Inside, TVs were on mute, turned so we couldn’t see them, and class went on.”
Decatur senior Carletta Currie, 29, who was working in Peoria, realized her cubicle felt frighteningly small as supervisors tried to shoo workers away from the television in the breakroom and back to their telephones. Today she’s an AmeriCorps volunteer based at Robertson Charter School, working to help at-risk youth and end poverty.
“I never knew I was so entrapped until that day,” she said. “For me, it was a life-changing experience.”
But students Ravi Sukhai, 38, of Springfield and Stardasha Brown, 21, of St. Louis, leaders of the student veterans association, were the ones who best embodied the point of the 9/11 Remembrance on Tuesday evening: to honor first responders.
Cassie Monfiston, Millikin’s service and civic engagement coordinator for AmeriCorps, first asked participants to imagine themselves at the center of the attacks, then to picture themselves running toward the danger instead of away from it. “If you’re a first responder, you’re not thinking about family to call. You’re on call,” she said.
Sukhai, who was an Army medic stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., had to remain a calm caregiver despite the chaos and despite his worry about family members living in New York. Brown, on the other hand, said she joined the Army National Guard two and a half years ago because of 9/11.
“I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself and my family,” she said, “to fight alongside those people who are willing to sacrifice everything.”
Brown commended all first responders for their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way for the greater good.
Monfiston concluded the remembrance by having participants write thank-you cards to be delivered to the Decatur police and fire departments and the Veterans Administration Illiana Health Care System hospital in Danville.
First responders in the Decatur area already received at least 651 thank-yous Tuesday, the number of cards generated by a similar project coordinated by Dove Inc.’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.
Director Joan Meeder and specialist Susan Sistler delivered the first batch of more than 200 cards to Fire Station No. 1 shortly after more than a dozen Decatur firefighters had dispersed from participating in a 9 a.m. ceremony remembering the 343 New York firefighters and more than 2,500 others killed 11 years ago when hijackers used jetliners to destroy the World Trade Center.
Most were paper “quilt blocks” drawn by AnnMarie Fiore’s students at Durfee, Parsons and Stevenson schools.
“For you, we have drawings from kindergarteners and first-graders,” Sistler said. “It’s so interesting to see their vision of you guys.”
Fire Chief Matt Sekosky, who said he cannot forget fellow firefighters dying before his eyes when the two towers collapsed, told the women he appreciates groups taking the time to recognize the work of local first responders.
“We don’t look for pats on the back, but we basically do the same thing (9/11 first responders did) every day,” Sekosky said. “We love to do it, and we’re proud to do it.”
Senior Corps and AmeriCorps programs are funded by the Corporation for National & Community Service, which encourages 9/11 projects. A year ago, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program sent thank-you cards to soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Sistler said if the cards bring “even five minutes of happiness” to the lives of people giving so much of themselves to help others, it’s worth it.
Other groups that provided cards for Meeder and Sistler to deliver included First Christian Church’s youth group, the Decatur Kiwaniannes, Decatur-Macon County Senior Center and Tanglewood Village.
The fire department on Tuesday celebrated the service of six firefighters who retired in the past year and welcomed six new firefighters to the department.
The retirees and years of service are Capt. Michael Minton, 32 years, and Capt. Jeffrey Pritts, 28; Battalion Chief Fred Schneller, 27; Lt. Thomas Durbin, 25; and firefighters Cynthia Dupont, 21, and Monte Prasun, 20.
The new firefighters are Justin Brown, Travis Garrett, Ross Garman, Jamie Gower, Paul Higar and Blake Johnson.
After their stop at Fire Station No. 1, Meeder and Sistler delivered cards to the Mid-Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross, Decatur Ambulance Service, Decatur Memorial Hospital, Decatur police and St. Mary’s Hospital.
Sistler also took cards made by the Warrensburg-Latham High School Community Service Club to the Warrensburg Village Hall for distribution to first responders in that area.