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ON THE SCENE: Wilmington celebrates the foliage, remembers 9/11

From left, Susan Albert, Guy Stephenson and Wilmington Historical Society President Karen Peters pose Saturday, Sept. 11 during the Festival of Colors at the Preston Festival Field in Wilmington. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

On Saturday, Sept. 11, the town of Wilmington celebrated what’s great about their community during their annual Festival of Colors at the Preston Festival Field.

They held a moving tribute to those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and honored those who rushed to Ground Zero and elsewhere to support the recovery efforts. Several from Wilmington participated in that critical response.

“It was important for us as a community to take time on 9/11 to pay tribute to the people that lost their lives or a loved one on that horrific day,” said Wilmington town Supervisor Roy Holzer.

The day was bright and sunny, perfect for chatting with friends and neighbors, eating a variety of options, painting pumpkins, and picking up various gifts and produce from area artisans. The weather was equally if not more perfect for honoring others, a tributed organized by the Wilmington Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department.

The department was established in 1924 and has been the community’s response center to a wide array of challenges ever since. During the Ice Storm of 1998, the firehouse was the center of the volunteer response, sharpening and fueling people’s chain saws at night, enabling crews to concentrate on clearing roads, driveways and power lines of fallen trees. As if highlighting the department’s motto of being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, members left the festival grounds just before the tribute began in response to an emergency.

The honor guard salutes those who fell during the Sept. 1, 2001 terrorism attacks and those who helped with the recovery during a special program Saturday, Sept. 11 at the Festival of Colors in Wilmington. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“It’s what we do,” said Fire Commissioner Charlie Terry, a volunteer for over 40 years. “It’s just helping our neighbors. I do it because it’s the way I was brought up, I guess. It’s ingrained.”

Three Wilmington EMT volunteers, joining others from around the region, went to Ground Zero to help support and care for the rescue workers. One of the three is Marty Bausman, former pastor of the Wilmington Church of the Nazarene who provided the closing tribute prayer.

“We were doing rescue work for the workers,” said Bausman. “None of us were allowed on the site, but we were right next to it in case a worker got hurt and needed treatment and transport to a hospital. I’ve thought a lot about what that experience meant. To think about the scope of the disaster and yet to see all the workers on Ground Zero working so diligently and yet, still being so tender when they’d find human remains. Things would come to a stop. Great reverence was paid to each person they found.”

“As our crew was about to leave, close to midnight, I met another EMT from the Syracuse area,” Bausman continued. “I believe she was a Catholic nun from a school there. She said something poignant to me. She looked out at the site and said, ‘This is the worst that man can do to man.’ And then she pointed to the workers and said, ‘This is the best that man can do for man.’ That’s stayed with me all these 20 years later.”

When the request came for volunteers, Bausman said that he and the others didn’t hesitate. Knowing their community was entirely behind their decision, they had the equipment and training and felt called to serve.

Attendees of the Festival of Colors in Wilmington Saturday, Sept. 11 watch a special 9/11 tribute led by Wilmington Fire & Rescue. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Another Wilmington resident who responded to the request for help was Steve Peters and his colleague, Lake Placid resident Douglas Oesch. They ran the accreditation/volunteer department at the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. They were asked to head down on Sept. 19, 2001, and provide credentialing for the thousands of workers and volunteers at Ground Zero. At the time, credentialing digitalizing was in its infancy. ORDA, which hosted such a wide array of events that engaged a diversity of people, was one of the most experienced state agencies in all aspects of credentialing.

Peters and Oesch didn’t hesitate and said later they would have gone again no matter the task that needed their help. Taking their computer equipment with them, they worked nearly nonstop for the next 12 days, credentialing over 5,000 people before they returned — including heavy equipment operators, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gov. George Pataki, former President Bill Clinton, Mohammed Ali and Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.

Peters’ mom, Karen, president of the Wilmington Historical Society, said the experience was very emotional for her son and Oesch, especially when they were brought to Ground Zero to observe the work being done and safety needs there. She said that in 2016 he returned to Ground Zero with his children for a lesson in history, resilience and reverence, showing them photos he took now 20 years earlier.

Echoing Peters with his children, Assemblyman Matt Simpson said, “While we’ll never forget the tragic event and its impact, we all need to hold on to what makes America great, and that’s that we are resilient. We will move forward, never forgetting what brought us to this place.”

What also brought people together was the bond that ties Wilmington residents together in good days, in trying times, and to events like the Festival of Colors. Wilmington people have a can-do spirit, a rich history and feel blessed to live in such a beautiful environment.

Pastor Marty Bausman (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Eleri Smith of Jay, for example, makes her living tapping into nature’s bounty as an herbalist. Her neighbors in Jay and the booth next to hers were beekeepers John and Manon Mullane, Miss Bee Haven Apiary owners.

“We’ve been in the bee business for five or six years,” said John Mullane. “I have a brother who has been doing it for a while, and he talked me into it. We love having an apiary because it’s so tied to nature. Without the bees, we are lost. We love watching them grow. We can tell when they must have a new queen because of the way they’re acting. And you can tell too by the honey they bring in that it comes from different flowers at different times of the year. Then you have the wax on top of that, which is a whole other thing.”

Their bees, of course, pollinate Smiths’ plants next door; they’ve become friends and allies in protecting nature.

“We are part of nature,” said Smith, owner of Warrior Remedies. “Many people feel disconnected because of their everyday life, which now means living and working inside constantly.”

While Smith uses rituals, herbal remedies, and helping people connect with mother earth, Wilmington-based award-winning children’s book author Brian Heinz takes them on nature-based adventures. He conducts writing workshops for people of all ages.

Pipsqueak the Clown and her dragon (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Meanwhile, kids were painting pumpkins under the pavilion. On the far side of the festival grounds, a blue dragon told stories with the Pipsqueak the Clown as a boa constrictor slithered through the grass in a beeline towards the action.

Life in Wilmington; it’s never dull.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)

Author Brian Heinz (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)