Yates County remembers 9/11

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

20th anniversary of the attack on the American people recalled with solemnity, a fundraising motorcycle ride, and a light display at iconic USA Field

The USA Field was lit up in red, white and blue for the remembrance.

PENN YAN – With the determination for our community to "Never forget," The Penn Yan Fire Department hosted a 9/11 Memorial Service in remembrance of all the souls lost in the terrorist attack on the country Sept. 11, 2001.

Elm Street was overarched by a large American flag suspended between the extended ladders of truck from Penn Yan and Hammondsport, as more that 250 motorcycles arrived in a fundraising 9/11 Memorial Ride organized by Willie & Jennifer Allison of the Valley Inn in Guyanoga.

The motorcycles and spectators filled Elm St. which was closed for the occasion.

The tone of the service was set by a moving rendition of the National Anthem sung by Kate Ferguson Schmidl. Speeches from Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike, Penn Yan Mayor Leigh MacKerchar, Penn Yan Fire Chief Mike Pedersen, and Yates County Emergency Management Coordinator Brian Winslow brought all those listening back to that day, the devastating images, and the countless acts of selfless heroism displayed by rescuers – many of whom lost their lives that day or in the years that followed from the impacts on their health.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike gave a stirring speech recounting the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93 who gave their lives to stop another.

That made the presence of Yates County's former Public Health Director Lauren Snyder particularly significant. Snyder stepped in to speak in lieu of her friend and 1965 Penn Yan Academy classmate, Barbara C. Gathard, who was unable to as planned due to a health issue. Gathard was a first-hand witness to the New York attack after moving to New York City from N.C. in 2001. They had just recently taken an apartment in Battery Park City directly across from the World Trade Center. Snyder read the recollection her friend composed for the service.

Former Yates County Public Health Director Lauren Snyder stood in for her friend and PYA classmate, Barbara Gathard, to read her first-hand account of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack at the World Trade Center. Penn Yan Mayor Leigh MacKerchar (seated) also spoke at the ceremony.

"On the morning of 9/11, I was preparing to leave for the second day of a three-day NGO Conference at the United Nations. It was also the International Day Of Peace," wrote Gathard. "Shortly before my husband and I were leaving, we felt and heard the first plane hit the North Tower.  A little while Iater, I was on the phone with my father (in Upstate N.Y.) telling him we were okay and that it was 'pilot error'  when I saw the second plane fly by our window and go into the south tower. From this point on, our minds, and bodies were consumed with shock, horror, fear and grief as we encountered the rest of the day. Eventually we were told to evacuate." Once ordered, Gathard and her husband started their trek out of the evacuation zone with their heads wrapped with wet towels. 

"At this point, my towel fell down and I gasped… inhaling what felt and tasted soot and small pieces of charcoal." Their circuitous route by foot, police tugboat, buses, trains, and subways took most of the day, and they stayed with their daughter for several weeks until they could relocate.       

Like many survivors and many of their rescuers, Gathard says, "I do find, even now, all these years later, that any mention of, pictures of, articles of that day, does create deep emotional feelings and tears... and I wonder if my breast cancer,  sleep apnea, deep cough, carpal tunnel, memory loss, unexplained skin issues, appearance of external blood clots in leg, random shooting pains in head are in any way related to this."

At moments in reading her friend's memories, Synder had to pause briefly as her voice quavered with sympathy. Her reading was briefly interrupted by the sound of ambulance sirens. Grasping the moment, Snyder praised those first responders, the very people the ceremony was meant to honor, and the crowd responded with applause and cheers.

Volunteers Steve Rapalee and George Burnett laying a memorial wreath at the PYFD fire bell.

The ceremony continued with the laying of a memorial wreath at the PYFD bell; tolling the bell three times (the old signal of when a fire was finally out) with a distant echoing ring from St. Michael's Church; and the playing of Taps by Jeffrey Stempien. 

Jeffrey Stempien plays "Taps" as the PYFD flag is dipped in memory of all those who perished on 9/11, especially the members of the NYFD.

Once the solemn Memorial Service was concluded, the more than 380 motorcycle riders continued to the Valley in where the Allisons had prepared over 400 lbs. of roast pork. The Memorial Ride and dinner raised over $1,700 donated to the Finger Lakes Burn Association. This was the 18th year the Allisons and the PYFD have organized the ride and service.

More than 250 motorcycles arrived in Penn Yan for the 9/11 Memorial Service as Part of the Memorial Ride fundraiser.
Willie & Jennifer Allison have been organizing their Memorial Ride fundraiser for 18 years.
Numerous volunteers and six generators helped light up the USA Field along Rte. 54A in in Jerusalem for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
A flag and flares completed the special display as hundreds of cars arrived on Rte. 54A, James Road, and Esperanza Road to view the iconic USA Field.
Taken from the same vantage point, the USA Field as it looked when first created in 2002 by Gary Cronk as a symbol for national unity. Cronk returned to help current owner Greg McDonald light the field for this year's memorial.