The groundbreaking ceremony for the New Paltz 9/11 Memorial took place on Friday, Sept. 11. Former New Paltz Republican Committee Chairman Butch Dener spearheaded the effort to bring a symbol of America’s tenacity to the New Paltz community.
“I did this for the community and out of a love of this country,” Dener said. “There was no government money involved in the planning of this project. This was for the community to commemorate and never forget what happened to us on that day.”
Dener said that each generation has its own associated national tragedy. Dener cited Pearl Harbor for the Greatest Generation, the Kennedy assassination for Baby Boomers and 9/11 for Millennials. The memorial is meant to stand as a continuing symbol of unity and patriotism.
In 2002, Dener planted the “Tree of Remembrance” outside of Fire Station Two on North Putts Road with former New Paltz Republican vice-Chairman Carmine Liberta. Dener said that the two of them had talked about eventually expanding the project into a larger memorial. Years after Liberta passed away, Dener found inspiration while traveling in New York City and eventually renewed public interest in the project.
“I partnered with Kevin McGuire, the New Paltz Fire Department chief, and we obtained a piece of steel from the North Tower,” Dener said. “In addition to that, the New Paltz Police Department was able to contribute a four foot statue that had stood in front of the South Tower.”
The ceremony was also memorable for its inclusion of local resident Kevin Zraly. A former manager and wine expert at “Windows on the World,” the acclaimed restaurant on top of the North Tower, Zraly lost 72 friends and coworkers on 9/11. He had never spoken publicly about that day before this memorial ceremony.
“It was very powerful to have Kevin there,” Dener said. “I think the sense of community provided him with a comfortable place to share his story.”
Several prominent leaders in the community attended the event, including Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack, who was struck by the turnout from the town.
“It was impressive to see this community come together under the guidance of private citizens and the fire department,” Postupack said. “I’ve attended quite a few 9/11 memorials, but this one felt different. It was more of a remembrance for the community.”
Among others who attended the groundbreaking was town councilman Dan Torres, who knew Zraly’s son in middle school. Torres thought the ceremony spoke to the core of the character of New Paltz.
“This event was one of the things I love about the town,” Torres said. “It was important to acknowledge the tragedy and the effect it had on this community. Personally, I support the idea of making a town contribution, whether that is through maintenance or supplying money for the memorial. I think we should help out in whatever way we can.”
Torres also commented on how the proximity of the attacks has resonated with people around town, with many knowing someone who was affected by the attacks.
The memorial is slated to be dedicated on Sept. 11., 2016, marking the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.
Contributions can be made out to the New Paltz Fire Department, P.O. Box 656 New Paltz, NY 12561. If “9/11” is written in the memo section, then the contribution can be considered as tax deductible.