Knights Honor First Responders, Military at New 9/11 Dinner
St. Michael benefit dinner to help veterans’ charities
By Patricia SzPekowski, Observer Correspondent
September 16, 2021
HUNTLEY—On the 20th anniversary of 9/11 as America remembered those who perished, so did the Huntley Knights of Columbus Council 11666 with its inaugural St. Michael Benefit Dinner at St. Mary Parish in Huntley on Sept. 11.
Why remembering is so important was powerfully illustrated for the 180 guests by the surprise keynote speaker, St. Mary parishioner Robert Fitzsimons, whose brother, Richard, perished at the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11. 
“I can’t believe it was 20 years ago,” Fitzsimons said, “as it seems like yesterday. Over the years people have expressed sympathy and there has been a sense of belonging and a connection.”
Fitzsimons spoke with pride and sorrow in recalling what happened to his brother, a retired telephone company employee, who worked as a fire safety inspector at the Twin Towers for OSC Security of the New York Port Authority. 
“When I first heard of what happened on 9/11, I had hoped Richard wasn’t at work as a trip he planned to Florida was cancelled. I called Richard’s wife, Pat, and we thought he was okay. 
“But then all efforts by any of us, including my other two brothers, to get any scrap of information was in vain,” Fitzsimons said. “All we could do was pray. Ultimately, Richard could not be found.”
As Fitzsimons continued, he recounted when he was told that his brother and a colleague ran into the daycare center in Tower One of the World Trade Center. They helped 30 parents, instructors and children to escape unharmed. 
“Then, they were selfless and went back into Tower Two to rescue the children in there, too. We were told by an evacuee who spoke to Richard that he said ‘I’m doing my job and I’m saving lives.’ ” 
Because of him and others who helped, no children perished in the towers.
Fitzsimons was unsure if his brother’s remains would ever be found. 
“His tattered wallet with his ID and emergency $10 bill was recovered in 2003, and we had no other hope to find Richard as the agencies stopped DNA identifications. But in 2004, he was identified when his left hand, with wedding band attached, was found.”
In closing, Fitzsimons said, “To this day, we always have a candle in the window. 9/11 should never be forgotten and always be a day of remembrance.” 
The crowd rose to their feet as Fitzsimons left the stage.
This year’s dinner in recognition of St. Michael, a patron saint of the military and first responders, was the first time a dinner was held as a tribute to both.
“Showing appreciation to all uniformed personnel for their service is important,” said Knight Dave Babicz, dinner chairperson. 
“Proceeds from the dinner, combined with free will donations obtained during the evening, will benefit Veterans Path to Hope in Crystal Lake and the Rosecrance Florian Program based in Rockford. There is a great need to assist veterans and uniformed personnel in many ways and these two organizations excel in these areas,” Babicz explained.
The Florian Program focuses on providing mental health and substance abuse prevention services to uniformed personnel. 
The Veterans Path to Hope provides housing and employment assistance to veterans in need.
“We do what we can to honor and support those who put others first before themselves,” added Grand Knight Dennis Hennessy.
The evening was co-emceed by Knights Babicz and Jim Kalas. Father Christopher DiTomo, St. Mary pastor, offered grace. 
A flag presentation by the Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus Assembly 2381 opened the dinner.
The men carried flags by two tables left empty but marked with 14 place cards.
Thirteen identified the U.S. military personnel who died in a suicide boming Aug. 26 in Kabul, Afghanistan. 
“Each place setting has a can of beer as a nod to the ‘salute’ that recently swept across America in their honor,” said Babicz. 
“We also included Officer Ella French of the Chicago Police Department, who died while on duty, Aug. 8,” he said.
Appreciation was extended to the 140 volunteers from the Knights of Columbus and the parish Ladies Auxiliary who organized the dinner.
To conclude the evening, Deacon Jim Conrey led guests in saying the St. Michael prayer.
“It was a beautiful evening and I was very moved by Robert’s story about his brother, but especially about his recovery,” said guest Lorry Weiss.
Her husband, Philip, a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 11666, said, “I’m proud of the outstanding and inspirational work done tonight by the Knights and the Fourth Degree Assembly 2381.”


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