It's a story that can't be told enough, that unfolded during one of the worst days in American history. It's a story of heroism, bravery, and sacrifice – like so many stories of those died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This story is about Stephen Siller, who stopped at nothing to get back into the World Trade Center to help with rescue efforts. It's about the foundation that now bear's his name – The National Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
The foundation has held an annual Tunnel to Towers 5K run/walk event in New York every year since 9/11 to help raise money for heroes in need and their families. On Saturday, Nov. 10, Wellington will host Kansas' first Tunnel to Towers event.
By the time Stephen Siller was 10 years old, he had already lost both parents. Although he went through a period of struggle, because of the love of his siblings and the values instilled in him by his parents, he grew up to be an extraordinary individual. More than most, he knew that time was precious and accomplished much in his 34 years.
On September 11th, firefighter Stephen Siller had just gotten off the late shift at Squad 1, Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was on his way to play golf with his brothers on that bright clear day when his scanner told of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers. When he heard the news, he called his wife Sally to tell her he would be late because he had to help those in need. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear, then took his final heroic steps to the World Trade Center. When Stephen drove his truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, it was already closed to traffic . With sixty pounds of gear strapped to his back, he ran through the Tunnel, hoping to meet up with his own company, Squad 1.
Stephen was first and foremost a loving husband and father to five children. He was also a dedicated fireman, devoted brother, loyal friend and committed neighbor. His life brought great light to those around him.
Stephen's brother Russell wrote these words for Stephen's Memorial which best expresses the effect of his life on all who knew him. "Like the comet Halle-Bopp that streaked across the sky a few years ago, Stephen's light startled us all. When we thought it could not get any brighter, it got brighter still. Just when we were enjoying it so much, for it was so unexpected, so breathtaking, it shot across the sky and went well beyond us all, deeper into the mind of God."
Page 2 of 3 - Stephen's life and his heroic death serve as reminder to us all to live life to the fullest and to spend our time hear on earth doing good - this is his legacy.
Family friend, Jay Price, shared thoughts on Stephen's lasting legacy when he wrote, "Every momentous event, even a tragedy, has its symbolic figures. September 11th was no different; it just had a few more of them. Rudy Giuliani, Father Mychal Judge, the four guys on United Flight 93…a hundred more…a thousand. None bigger than Stephen Siller, whose stature only grows with time as New Yorkers and people from around the world follow his footsteps."
Each year the event has been held in the Big Apple, Wellington Fire Department's Assistant Fire Chief, Jeff Mraz has participated in the Tunnel to Towers run.
"It's a great event, a great honor," Mraz said. "People come out by the thousands in New York..." This year, the foundation decided to hold an event in each state.
"They were looking for sites all over the country to do this event," said Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Shelley Hansel-Williams. "Jeff told one of the Tunnel to Towers people to call Wellington to see if we could do it here." There is still plenty of room for more participants.
"We took this race on, because of Anthony's official State 9/11 Memorial, and they wanted to pull in people from Wichita," Hansel-Williams said. "My thought was we're right in between the two and it would be an ideal location." The race is full of symbolism, with local veterans giving the "start" signal, the runners and walkers will be off, the starting line will be on C Street in front of the Wellington Fire Station and will run 3 miles through the park with an uphill climb on Harvey to simulate the climb up the tower. At the end of the race, part of the old WTC will make an appearance.
"Then to cap it all off, Jeff brought back a piece of the World Trade Center," Hansel-Williams said. "Everyone that crosses the finish line will actually touch a piece of the tower." This will provide a memory that will last forever for each participant.
"As soon as the race is over, the piece of steel beam is going to come back inside the fire station and be kept until we can do our memorial wall," Mraz explained.
The money raised will go back to the Stephen Siller Foundation who through a program called "Building for America's Bravest" will help build a smart home for Lance Corporal Tyler Huffman. Huffman was paralyzed after being shot in Afghanistan. He lives in Jefferson City, Missouri with his wife and son. A portion of the monies raised here in Kansas will also go to the official State 9-11 Memorial in Anthony, Kansas.
Page 3 of 3 - Online registration has ended for the event. but those interested in signing up may visit the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce, 207 S Washington, to do so. A registration table will also be set up at the Public Safety Complex, 200 N. C, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9. Registration will also be available the day of the event, Nov. 10, starting at 8 a.m. The race starts at 10 a.m.
"I just hope people realize we're pretty fortunate, being a small town, to be asked to do something like this is quite an honor," Mraz said. "I would just like to see the community support it."