Updated: 09-04-2004 12:27:50 PM

Kansas Town Forms Connection With Bronx Firehouse, Family After 9/11 Attacks

Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A bond forged between the small Kansas town of Anthony and Bronx firefighters after the Sept. 11 attacks three years ago has led to the creation of a memorial in the town, which will be dedicated on the anniversary of the attacks.

The memorial in Anthony grew out of the town's decision after the attacks to help the family of New York firefighter Joseph Spor Jr., who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and his fellow firefighters in the Bronx.

The memorial will cost between $70,000 and $80,000, Schott said. About $60,000 is coming from outside Anthony from people who bought bricks to remember their loved ones or to send a message.

``We are a caring community and this was one way we could reach out to them and hopefully help them,'' said Donna Crowe, chairwoman of the Anthony 9-11 Memorial Committee. ``This memorial, it stands for everybody.''

The memorial includes a beam from the World Trade Center, a limestone block from the Pentagon and dirt from the site in Pennsylvania where passengers aboard United Flight 93 forced the hijackers to crash the plane before it hit another target. Bricks are engraved with the names of victims and messages from well-wishers around the nation.

``There are a lot of people who think we should forget, and that is the worst thing you can do. How do you forget what happened that day? Just the raw pain, the shock, the anger we all experienced - even in Kansas,'' said Anthony Mayor John Schott.

When Anthony residents wanted to help after the attack, it was important to them to know that the money they collected was going to a family, not lost in some vast and faceless fund.

Schott, after several calls to New York officials, was drawn to Joseph Spor Jr., who followed his father to become a New York firefighter. The elder Spor had been a firefighter at Ladder 38, retiring from the elite Rescue 3 unit. His 35-year-old son had just moved to Rescue 3 from Ladder 38 a month before the attacks.

The younger Spor was inside the World Trade Center when the first tower collapsed. He left behind a wife, Colleen, and four children between the ages of nine months and 6.

The community found that Spor, an amateur carpenter, had just begun a major remodeling job in his home. Residents collected money to help pay for the renovations, which were completed by his fellow firefighters.

In the ensuing years, they sent birthday gifts to his children - his son's first skateboard, a Barbie doll for his daughter among them. Strangers sent the family letters and notes.

In New York, Spor's family members would pass around the latest letters and notes from Anthony. An American flag quilt sewn by Anthony residents still hangs in the living room of Spor's father.

The family wrote back to the people of Anthony and sent pictures.

``You get isolated in your own grief. You forget America is such a huge place,'' said Maureen Comiskey, Spor's older sister.

Anthony's third grade class adopted Ladder 38 and made them cookies and Christmas cards. The Anthony Fire Department also sent some department T-shirts, hats and deer jerky. Ladder 38 sent back some Ladder 38 and Engine 88 shirts and pins.

After two months of working at Ground Zero - where his job was plotting human remains on a GPS system - Lt. Joe Huber of Ladder 38 in the Bronx came to Anthony in 2002 to see the town and talk to its people.

In a ceremony held in his honor, Huber told the people of Anthony how in his darkest days after the attacks he would come home to a card or e-mail from Anthony - and how much it meant to him, Schott said.

Schott and his family also visited New York in 2002, spending time with Spor's family and the firefighters of Ladder 38. His family returned earlier this year and again visited with Spor's widow and children.

``We were impressed that people so far away could care about what is going on in our own family,'' Comiskey said. ``So much tragedy happened that day in New York, in Washington and in Pennsylvania. It is hard to see someone picked us out especially.''

Family members were especially touched by the huge effort by a town of only 2,300 people to build a Sept. 11 memorial.

Comiskey said the family avoids ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center because they do not like being in the spotlight - and because those ceremonies have become more like rallies than memorials.

But Comiskey and another sister, Barbara O'Rourke, and her family plan to attend the Anthony ceremony.

``We got tons of support from people we know, but from people we didn't know - it was surprising,'' Comiskey said.

Events begin at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 with a remembrance march from the Anthony fire station to Memorial Park. Free food, music and a dedication ceremony are planned.

Anthony 9-11 memorial site
More about Joe Spor
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Joe Spor Jr. Rescue 3 FDNY