'Silly' Song Was His Melody of Love

February 15, 2002

It was the summer of 1976 and Paul McCartney was singing the chorus to "Silly Love Song" on the radio when 16-year-old Kenny Phelan turned to his girlfriend, Patty, sitting on the stoop of her house in Maspeth, Queens, and turned the volume control all the way down.

"I ... love ... youuuuuu," he sang, his blue eyes riveted to hers.

They'd been going out for a year, but they knew they'd be together forever.

Pat Phelan was thinking about that Monday morning, after she got their four kids off to school and cried some more over her husband of 18 years, a New York City fire lieutenant who was substituting in a Brooklyn Heights firehouse on Sept. 11 and hasn't been found since.

"Not many people could do that, just meet and fall so much in love," she said. "It seemed like a fairy tale, and I just woke up."

The handsome prince in Pat Phelan's fairy tale was a firefighter's son whose greatest aspiration was to serve in the same Bedford- Stuyvesant firehouse, Engine Co. 217, where his father, Daniel, had spent his career. Pat and Kenny met at a volleyball game at Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village. She quickly learned he was all about family. Working three jobs to pay for Catholic school, he'd spend his paperboy tips every Friday to buy pizza for his sisters, Marian, Jean, Mary and Frances, and his little brother, Leonard.

Kenny took Patty to Mets games, PeterFrampton and Bruce Spring- steen concerts, and on strolls through the park. He was a "listener," she remembered, always looking out for the underdog, who dropped everything if somebody needed a hand. Once they started talking about the future, they agreed it should include two girls and two boys.

The kids obliged: Kimberly, 17, Erin, 14, Daniel, 11, and little Kenny, 7.

And Phelan made it to his father's firehouse last year, after eight years as a New York city police officer and 11 at Manhattan's Engine Co. 16. He was studying for the captain's exam coming up in October. After he retired, Phelan, 41, wanted to be a gym teacher.

The Phelans were all about family: swimming at Breezy Point in the summer, skiing at Killington, Vt., in the winter. Coaching basketball at Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village, where Erin was on the team that had just won the diocesan championship.

Phelan's wife was at her job teaching third grade at St. Sebastian's in Woodside on Sept. 11 when she heard the news. She panicked: Phelan's sister Frances Krische, a lawyer, worked in Tower One.

But Krische had been delayed that morning; Phelan was somewhere at the site. After hours of waiting, his wife rode in to Ground Zero with a detective cousin. Nobody should see what she saw; she threw out the clothes she had worn that day, and is getting counseling. But she knew her husband wasn't coming home. She is glad she went.

"If he was going to die, I had to be there," she said. "And I had to let him know I was there."