ROCKFORD — Nearly 200,000 tons of steel crashed to the ground when the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, 2,000 pounds of it sit at the corner of West State Street and Kilburn Avenue.
The Winnebago County 9/11 Emergency Responders Memorial, dedicated and unveiled today, honors those who died during the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as first responders from Winnebago County who lost their lives in the line of duty.
Planning for the memorial began in 2010 when William Pederson came across the Families of September 11 Association website. The nonprofit association distributed steel from the rubble to various organizations across the country, so Pederson formed a committee to determine what to do with two of the beams in Rockford.
“There was no public memorial for our emergency responders, so we looked up how many we had lost and it totaled 25 deaths,” he said. “When we decided to use the steel to honor both 9/11 and our local emergency responders, that’s when we knew we had something.”
Designed by architects at Larson & Darby Group, each section of the memorial represents a different aspect of 9/11. The steel beams are the focal point, representing the attacks in New York City. A brick pathway, 40 of which are engraved with a black star represent the 40 lives lost on Flight 93, and the pentagon-shaped platform on which the first responders sculpture sits represents those who lost their lives in the attack at the Pentagon. The sculpture, created by Renee Bemis of St. Charles, depicts a firefighter leading the way, with a police officer to his left and an EMS member to his right. Along the brick pathway are 25 plaques, each with the name of a Winnebago County first responder who lost his or her life.
One of those names is Kevin Rice Sr., a Rockford police officer who was killed in 2001. His daughter Aiesha Rice-Dainty, along with other members of his family, took part in the dedication ceremony. Members of the Northern Illinois Multi-Jurisdictional Honor Guard escorted family members and friends to each granite plaque, where a rose was placed on the wall.
“This is just such a great thing,” Rice-Dainty said. “We’ve gone to a lot of different police memorials, but it means a lot to have one here in Rockford that anyone in the community can come to.”
Pederson said the $400,000 memorial is not only built for the community, but by the community. The only parts of the memorial not produced in northern Illinois are some granite plaques, which had to be made in Pennsylvania because of their graphics.
“Everything was done locally,” he said. “The materials, the designs, even the labor unions donated their time and energy and we wanted it to be that way. That’s why we made sure to commemorate all the local businesses on the memorial as well.”
The dedication ceremony was concluded by former Rockford police chaplain Father William Wentink, who spent the weeks following the 9/11 attacks assisting the New York City clergy at the morgue in Manhattan.
“I have been privileged since 1970 to work with police officers and firefighters who bring peace and justice,” he said. “It has been my honor and my privilege to serve these agencies.”
As for Pederson, he said he’s not quite sure what he will do with his time now that the memorial is finished — but seeing what he and his team spent the past six years working toward is a surreal experience.
“I just hope people can see what a great value this is for our community,” he said. “This memorial represents the loss we endured on 9/11, the sacrifice of those first responders and the pain the U.S. was going through — but more so how we get through that sadness and continue to make good out of bad.”