April 24/May 1, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 23
By Steven Feldman
On Thursday night, April 21, two of our industry’s own, Jeff Lorberbaum and Howard Brodsky, were feted at the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers’ inaugural Footsteps to the Future Gala for their companies’ contributions in building smart homes for America’s wounded veterans. It was a lavish event where many individuals from our industry came out to pay tribute to these two leaders and visionaries.
Of course, Mohawk and Carpet One executives turned out in droves. And there was the retired Ralph Boe fitting right in like he never left. There was Carl Bouckaert, making his first appearance anywhere in almost two years since a dirt bike accident almost claimed one of his legs. It’s been a long road back, but no one has the competitive spirit of Bouckaert, a former Olympian.
For those who might not know, Stephen Siller was a firefighter who on that infamous day was on his way to play golf with his brothers after finishing his shift when he got word over his scanner of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers. Upon hearing the news, Siller drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security purposes. Determined to carry out his duty, he strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he lost his life while saving others. He was one of 343 firefighters who perished that day.
The Siller family decided to keep Stephen’s memory alive by starting a foundation and an annual 5K race/walk tracing Stephen’s final steps on Sept. 11 through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into Lower Manhattan. Last year’s event drew more than 25,000 entries. The foundation then launched Building for America’s Bravest, which builds the aforementioned smart homes. Mohawk supplies the flooring; Carpet One members facilitate the installation.
While Frank Siller was telling the story of his brother on that fateful day, I couldn’t help but reflect. It has been almost 16 years but it still seems like yesterday. If you’re from New York you probably have your own story. Where you were when the planes hit the towers. How you found out. Who you lost that day. Who you know who escaped death. And…how you have dealt with it for these last 15 and a half years. You wonder if there will ever be a time when you can watch the reading of the names and not ball like a baby when they ring that bell, signifying the two moments when the planes hit both towers.
Like Brodsky and Lorberbaum, others are making a difference. I remember meeting a woman who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of one of the towers. Pretty much the entire company was gone. But she had picked the right day to get married. Three days before Sept. 11. She was on her honeymoon. And was spared. I’ll never forget her. A year later she started a foundation called A Little Hope, whose mission is to help provide bereavement support services and grief counseling for children, teens and young adults who have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling or a loved one. Read up on that at alittlehope.org.
My ex-wife’s cousin, who worked for the same company, was not as fortunate. You can read about her and the foundation that was started in her memory at brookejackmanfoundation.org. It also makes a big difference for children.
You know, after 9-11, I never went back to the site. Too many memories. Even as a kid. I must have been 7 when my grandparents would take me to a very nice restaurant called The Downtown. Loved it. It was owned by their next-door neighbors. Then one day they told me we couldn’t go anymore. It was closing and being demolished…to build what would become known as the Twin Towers. So I cried when those buildings went up and cried when they came crashing down.
If I were ever to go back, the reason would have to be extraordinary. When I learned of an event that would be honoring Brodsky and Lorberbaum, I knew it was time. Two men who epitomize the art of making a difference. But I couldn’t help but keep looking out that window and drifting back in time.
It may be painful to remember, but it would be a travesty to forget.