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Thread: How a small Kansas town became connected to a fallen New York firefighter's family

  1. #1
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    How a small Kansas town became connected to a fallen New York firefighter's family

    How a small Kansas town became connected to a fallen New York firefighter's family

    The Kansas City Star

    ANTHONY, Kan. - Immediately after the World Trade Center attacks, New York City seemed to be full of heroes. From his hometown in Kansas wheat country, John Schott was looking for just one.

    Inside his white frame house with a wrap-around porch, Schott glanced at the now-famous news photo of the firefighters raising the American flag atop the World Trade Center rubble. That's when it struck him.

    The disaster was too big to comprehend -- it felt too big to help remedy, really -- unless you could focus on a small part. So many firefighters lost their lives in the rescue attempt, so many heroes. What if Anthony, Kan., became a character in one hero's story?

    His search tools were the Internet and the telephone. A friend found a few potentially pertinent New York telephone numbers via Web searches, and Schott got on the phone.

    He fumbled over how to introduce himself, the mayor of a small town in Kansas, hardware store owner, concerned American.

    Schott bounced from one New York city government office to another, then to several relief organizations. Eventually he reached a phone bank distributing tickets to a memorial service.

    Do you happen to know, Schott asked, of someone who would benefit from the thoughts, prayers, even a little financial assistance, from a small town in Kansas?

    "Call this number," came the reply. "It's a firehouse in the Bronx. I know they lost somebody." And then he said the name "Joe Spor."

    The Bronx and Anthony -- it was hard for Schott to imagine two more disparate American communities. He had a feeling, though, the two could make a connection. He was more right than he knew.

    Schott reached Lt. Joe Huber at Ladder Co. 38 and mentioned Joe Spor. Huber at first was wary of the call. But as he came to realize that Schott's intentions were genuine, he tried to provide a glimpse of the Spors while protecting the family's privacy.

    Spor, said Huber, was a trusted firefighter and colleague, 35 years old, smart, a great carpenter and practical joker. He never stopped smiling. He and his wife, Colleen, had four children. Their baby was 6 months old when Joe rushed into the Trade Center's south tower. Their oldest was 6.

    Spor had begun a major remodeling project on his house just before he was killed, and the guys at the firehouse were finishing it for him, Huber said. Donations toward the project would honor Spor and help his family continue without him.

    To Schott, Spor sounded a lot like his brother-in-law, a Wichita firefighter, a carpenter on the side, about the nicest fellow you'd ever meet.

    "At that point I knew I had found the right guy," Schott said.

    A town responds

    Anthony is a town of 2,300, an hour's drive south of Wichita and close to the Oklahoma border, surrounded by pasture and wheat farms. Two clusters of white grain elevators sit on opposite sides of Main Street, guarding the approach to the business district.

    Main Street is busy but not bustling. Like a lot of small farming communities, Anthony has shrunk over the years, but it's spry for its age. Plans are under way for the town's 125th anniversary next year.

    There are three traffic lights in town, and some residents think two of them represent overkill by city government. Stop signs are few. An informal rule makes them unnecessary: Vehicles traveling on north-south streets always have the right of way. Drivers on east-west streets must yield.

    Several storefronts downtown are covered with scaffolding, part of a no-interest loan program to help shop owners spruce up. With the farm economy what it is, many stores can't invest much in major repairs.

    At Sewing World, one of the scaffolded stores, the mother-daughter team of Margie Seipel and Janett Ballard crafted the red, white and blue lapel ribbons used in the town's fund-raising drive following the attacks.

    When they ran out of tricolored ribbon, they meticulously stitched together solid-colored ribbon. They attached a straight pin on each and arranged them in heart shapes for counter displays around town.

    After Schott made contact with the fire station in the Bronx and learned the story of Joe Spor, the relief effort evolved into a relationship. More and more townspeople got involved. It was hard not to get caught up in Schott's enthusiasm.

    The city of Anthony's fund-raising drive generated just over $1,000. That money went directly to Colleen Spor to help pay for an addition and repairs to the family's home. Shortly after the attacks, the Anthony fire department had collected $5,000 in one day at the intersection of Kansas 2 and 44, the main intersection approaching Anthony. That money was sent to the American Red Cross.

    To be honest, Schott had hoped to send more to the family. On the other hand, he knew it was remarkable that a place as small as Anthony had collected more than $6,000 altogether.

    Schott dropped by Irwin-Potter Drug one day and chatted with Barbara Wright, a salesclerk who has known the 45-year-old Schott since he was a youngster. A new gift item had just arrived, she said, a patriotic afghan with the American flag and the words "United We Stand."

    "That's something neat we can send," Wright told Schott.

    Wright felt her own connection to Colleen Spor. Years ago her husband was killed in a tractor accident on their farm. Her children were much older than the Spor children, which made her situation easier than Colleen's, she said. Still she remembers the outpouring of help that got her through the toughest moments.

    In early November, Schott sent the first package to the Bronx, which included the relief fund check for the Spor family, the afghan to the fire station and messages to both.

    In a letter to the firehouse, Schott discussed his definition of hero: "My point is that heroes are not supermen; they are ordinary people with ordinary flaws and fears who face those flaws and fears and do what is necessary and right. Joe saw people in danger, and despite his normal fear he marched into danger to rescue those people."

    To Colleen Spor he wrote: "Just know that in a small town in the middle of Kansas there are people who will never forget what your Joe did that terrible day. Please let your children know that their daddy is a hero, not just to them but also to an entire nation."

    Colleen Spor sent back a thank-you card and a photo of the children, smiling, dressed in Christmas plaid, seated on a fire truck.

    Huber sent pictures of Joe Spor and his friends at the station. One was a photo from Huber's locker, taken not long before Spor died. Huber and Spor had just returned from a fire and were standing next to two colleagues.

    "Not the greatest quality photo, but important to me," Huber said in a note. "I think it was the last time Joe and I really `worked' together. He was always."

    The exchanges between the Bronx and Anthony continued. A package filled with Anthony fire department T-shirts, caps and deer jerky -- homemade by a hardware store employee who hunts -- was shipped to the Bronx. Ladder 38 and its companion company, Engine 88, responded with New York fire department shirts and pins.

    One of the shirts hangs from the ceiling of Cynda Carr's second-grade classroom at Anthony Elementary School. Before Christmas the second-graders made cookies -- melted almond bark mixed with Lucky Charms cereal -- and sent them to the firehouse.

    "I wanted them to be a part of it in some meaningful ways," Carr said.

    The students sent the cookies, Christmas cards and plenty of questions, such as, "Do the firefighters slide down a pole?"

    "We do slide the pole," Huber said in a December e-mail. "There are actually five in the house. If on the third floor, it's two slides to get to the rig. Will include that with the next batch of pictures."

    Thanks to pictures published by The Anthony Republican, just about everyone in town has seen the Spor family and knows that the New York firehouse is a three-story brick building with a memorial to Spor next to the front door.

    The paper ran its own full-page memorial Dec. 5 that included a photo of the afghan hanging on the wall of the apparatus room at Ladder 38.

    The paper also printed Spor's eulogy, in which a fellow firefighter praised Spor's abilities as a husband, father, firefighter and carpenter. It related a prank Spor played on one of his firehouse brothers: With a brush and some paint he spent hours transforming the fellow's boots into a pair of red Converse high tops.

    A crucial part of the exchanges has been Huber's willingness to correspond with the people of Anthony and to act as a go-between with the Spor family.

    "I've never really met anyone in Anthony," said Huber, a veteran firefighter with three youngsters of his own, "but it has to be a great place.

    "There's been an outpouring of support from all over, but Anthony has really epitomized it. They're the genuine article. They got in at the beginning and have really stuck with it."

    Cont'd in next post

  2. #2
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    How a small Kansas town became connected to a fallen FF cont'd

    Connections will continue

    Schott, of course, thinks Anthony is a great place. It's easy to see how much he loves small-town life. He spent most of his growing-up years in the Philippines, where his parents are missionaries, but he attended third grade and eighth grade in Anthony during sabbatical years. It always seemed like home.

    Later, living in Southern California with his wife, Pam, he used vacation time to return to the area to work on his uncle's farm.

    Tired of long commutes and Orange County in general, Schott convinced Pam and his son and daughter to move to Anthony in 1996. They bought a fixer-upper home and the hardware store and quickly became emotionally attached to the success of Anthony.

    Schott took on the job last year as mayor, which pays $175 a month. He has plenty on that plate, including a controversy over a proposed landfill. But he will continue to shepherd exchanges between Anthony and the Bronx.

    One idea is to bring Colleen Spor and the children to Anthony, let the youngsters ride a combine, treat them to a limeade at the soda fountain inside Irwin-Potter Drug.

    Another is to display a piece of the World Trade Center ruins in Anthony as a memorial to Spor and his fellow firefighters. Huber, currently detailed to the World Trade Center site, said it's a good possibility he will be able to secure a piece of the towers.

    Schott has a word for the new link between small-town Kansas and big-city New York: seamless. The physical differences are stark, but the similarities go much deeper.

    "This is too big to stop," he said.

    To reach Edward M. Eveld, features reporter, call (816) 234-4442 or send e-mail to

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