The opening Sunday of the NFL season, typically a huge day in America, took a back seat for most this year.
New Lenox resident Jeff Spiser, dressed in Bears attire, was watching the game on TV but left his home and went to the New Lenox with his teenage son for a ceremony remembering those who lost their lives 10 years ago in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Thought this was more important," Spiser said. "I can see Bears games the rest of the year. (It's) more of a duty I guess ... just showing your support.”
Residents from New Lenox and surrounding communities gathered in honor of Patriot Day on Sunday. Local dignitaries and representatives from area fire and police forces spoke about what 9/11 means to them, both in terms of memories and lessons to learn from events surrounding the day.
The memorial service took place in front of a statue located at the northwest corner of the Commons dedicated to fallen firefighters. The 9/11 day of remembrance, locally, was the culmination of the giant volunteerism weekend Sharefest.
Spiser's neighbor, Heather Collins, brought her two young sons to help them understand the significance of the day.
“The schools pretty much (explained 9/11) pretty well,” but she wanted to add more to that. She had already spoken with her 7-year-old about it “to let him get sad while I tell the story rather than just not tell him to not make him upset.”
Dan Jurka said 9/11 means tons to him, and with an event like the memorial service it "just means so much to see everyone come together." This is because not only is he a volunteer firefighter, but he also has a son that is a full-time firefighter and another son that is a police officer. Jurka came in from Crestwood for the event because the police officer son is Mike Jurka, a school resource officer Mike Jurka who, along with New Lenox Fire public education officer Erika Leader, served as emcees for the event.
Among those speaking were Mayor Tim Balderman, Will County Sheriff Paul Kaupas, New Lenox Fire Chief Jon Mead, St. Jude Associate Pastor Don Bates, Senior Pastor Dr. Jay Carr and New Lenox Police Deputy Chief Robert Pawlisz.
After the ceremony, Mike Jurka remembered the remarkable bravery on 9/11.
“Those guys in New York went in there knowing, 'well, I don't think we're coming back from this,' but they went anyway," he said. "You don't hear one story of someone saying, 'You know what? I'm done!' Nothing happened like that and it just shows to me, personally, you know what this country is about: the sacrifice that people make.”
He also said the people on Flight 93 who sometimes get overlooked.
"They had a choice: They could have sat and just waited to see what happened but they acted and they saved probably thousands more lives. And just the unselfishness of the country. For the first time, you got to see that.”
As a school resource officer, Mike Jurka said he knows something about the kids in the schools who grew up in a post-9/11 era. "I think their parents and grandparents kind of remind them to appreciate stuff and for the most part here I don't think people have ever forgotten and they don't really take too much for granted."
That's a lesson Jurka himself believes many learned 10 years ago – and that he remembers to this day. “As tragic as 9/11 was I think it also brought a lot of people closer together and I think even for a little while they were appreciating life a little more; it was no longer just taking life for granted and that's just what stuck for me: a whole new outlook on life and a whole new outlook on society.
“People may have their own opinions or disagreements on something, but when someone is in need in this town or when we do (charitable drives), this town comes together like nothing else I have ever seen. So here I don't think it ever really has ever been forgotten.”
Following the ceremony, fire chief Mead, said it's an important day for public safety personnel to remember the first responders who gave their lives after the attacks.
"But we also have to be thankful for the military," he said. "They're still over there fighting. We're enjoying the sun today."