DECATUR — Like many, Steve Kaufman remembers where he was on Sept. 11, 2001.
He was working as a carpenter, helping to build the Senator Severns Transit Center downtown. That's when news of the terrorist attacks started coming in over the radio he and the other workers were listening to.
"It's one of those moments that you just don't forget," said Kaufman, 64.
Now retired, Kaufman has joined more than 70 other union workers in constructing a monument on the Nelson Park lakefront to both memorialize the lives lost on 9/11 and to serve as a concrete reminder of what happened on that day.
"It was like going back to work," he said.
Construction at the memorial's site next to the Beach House restaurant began on Aug. 1. It will include a steel I-beam that was salvaged from the World Trade Center. The George A. Mueller Beer Co. worked to bring that beam to Decatur in 2015.
According to Riki Dial, the southern region organizing coordinator for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, members from nine local unions have volunteered their time and skills to help bring the project to life.
In addition to Carpenters Union Local 270, Dial said members of Iron Workers Local 96, Sheet Metal Workers Local 218, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 146, Laborers Local 159, Concrete Finishers Local 18, Teamsters Local 916 and Operators Local 965 have all assisted in the memorial's construction.
"It's an honor," Dial said. "It's an honor for our union members to volunteer their time for a community project."
Barry Perkins, a retired electrician and project manager for the memorial, said that the union members' willingness to help took a huge financial burden off of the construction process.
The $700,000 needed to buy materials for the memorial was raised by community members through a variety of local fundraising efforts. Those efforts included Oakwood Tattoos offering patriotic tattoos and donating the proceeds toward the memorial, and St. Patrick's School students voting for the best shoebox Mardi Gras floats by putting money in an envelope for the cause.
Dial said that Christy-Foltz, Midwest Materials, Dunker Electric, Bendsen Signs and Connor Co. have also donated materials, which he called "huge" contributions.
Perkins said the memorial organizers would need to raise more money to pay for contractors and laborers to build the project. When they put out a call for help, the union workers were there answer it, he said.
"They stepped up, and everyone has been amazing," Perkins said.
Lauren Axe said she is especially thankful for their help, and for the help of everyone who has supported the project so far.
"I have never seen so many people step forward to help us," said Axe, the 9/11 memorial's liaison. "This was truly a community effort, and it's incredibly fantastic."
To Dial, volunteering time to assist in the memorial's completion is a true testament to the giving nature of unions. It also shows their pride in being citizens of the United States, he said.
"We as American patriots will never forget what happened to our country on 9/11," Dial said. "That's the biggest reason we've been able to pull in as many volunteers as we have."
As a way to commemorate all of the union members who worked on the memorial, Dial said that a time capsule was installed within the monument's concrete base. It contains signed t-shirts that represent each of the unions that volunteered, he said.
"That was kind of an afterthought," he said. "It's something that we've done on other major projects that we're especially proud of in the past."
Kaufman said he's proud to have been a part of the project, too. The memorial is still on schedule to be completed by Sept. 11, and he's looking forward for his family, and the rest of the community to see the finished product.
"I'm not too much of an exciting guy. I just come out here to help my friends," Kaufman said. "But knowing this is going to be here forever, and the significance of it and knowing where the beam comes from ... Yeah, I'm glad to be a part of it."