Shadowed by a tall fire engine crane and accompanied by a dedicated police squad, the New Paltz community came together for the opening of its 9/11 Memorial.
On Sunday, Sept. 11, a year after its groundbreaking, former New Paltz Republican Committee Chairman Butch Dener led the hourlong ceremony commemorating those were who lost. The opening of the memorial is the pinnacle of a project that Dener began in 2002 with his friend Carmine Liberta, a Korean War veteran who was an active presence in New Paltz.
“I have a bet going, the over-under on how many tears I’ll have today,” Dener said. “I would say bet high.”
Village Mayor Tim Rogers and Town Supervisor Neil Bettez began the ceremony by leading the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This was followed by a rendition of the National Anthem performed by the New Paltz High School band.
Dener detailed the long process of how the memorial came to be, from the initial design concepts, procurement of display items, hosting fundraisers and the actual construction of the site.
“This was a community project, no government money was used,” Dener said. “I couldn’t have done this alone, there are so many people to thank. A community depends on so many parts and this one answered the call.”
Dener applauded Main Course Caterers for assisting with a fundraiser at Mohonk Mountain House, as well as Rick Alfandre for being the lead architect on the project. Dener also thanked Craig Shankles and KC Fabrications, who were responsible for the ‘vandal-proof’ benches on site. Additionally, State Senator John Bonacic provided the memorial with a flag from the 10th anniversary that listed the names of all those who perished.
Dener introduced Rabbi Zoe Bzak, of Temple Israel of Catskill, who led an interfaith prayer in Hebrew which asked God to “wrap his arms around those who have died, to provide them protection and safety.” Bzak then performed the popular hymnal, “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.”
The ceremony included a short, passionate speech by Kevin Zraly, a local resident who was the former manager at “Windows on the World,” the acclaimed restaurant on top of the North Tower. Zraly lost 79 friends and coworkers on 9/11, and said that after many difficult years of remembering that day, the opening of the memorial was “therapeutic” for him.
“I went to the memorial in New York City until 2004, then I couldn’t anymore; it was too sad,” Zraly said. “It’s been a long day, I’ve been up since 8 a.m., when I went to the top of Mohonk. I go there every year and stay until noon. But now, with this memorial, I have another place to go to.”
Following Zraly was Congressman Chris Gibson, who presented Dener with an American flag that flew above the U.S. Capitol. Gibson, a veteran who served in the Iraq War as a colonel, spoke with pride about America’s resilience, saying that “courage is revealed by adversity.”
“This is the American soul on display,” Gibson said. “It’s important to have ceremonies like this, to make sure we always commemorate those we lost and never forget them.”
John Faso, the Republican nominee to replace Gibson in Congress, was also in attendance, as were Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack and New Paltz Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Torres.
The ceremony concluded with stereos playing the 1976 version of “America the Beautiful” as performed by Ray Charles.