Community comes together to celebrate 9/11 riders

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If one didn't know better, Thursday night's welcoming of the 9-11 New York Education Ride bicyclists could have been mistaken for the Craig community Fourth of July celebration.

The singing of the national anthem, cheerleaders performing to Lee Greenwood, the VFW giving a 21-gun salute and a barbecue were just a few of the patriotic activities at the community's welcoming of three cyclists who are cycling across the nation to help orphans of Sept. 11.

"We wanted this to be a big old-fashioned, patriotic celebration," said Cathy Vanatta, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce. "This truly was a community celebration with the cooperation of the Chamber, hospital, college, police department, museum and many more."

The guests of honor were Ira Levy, Beth Mingledorff and Mike Marjanovic, who started riding their bikes on May 27 in Seattle, Wash., and will finish on Aug. 3 at "ground zero" in New York. Along the way the riders are raising money to donate to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, which was created to give college tuition to children who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

"Everyday when I'm teaching I see students receiving a college education that is the foundation to their adult lives," said Levy during a speech to the spectators. "I am glad to hear that the Craig community values its children's education and understands what I'm doing this for."

Levy said that after the events of Sept. 11 he, like many Americans, were trying to figure out how to help and he came up with biking across America to raise money.

"I didn't know what to expect going into this," said Levy, who is a community college teacher in Chicago. "I was told tonight that smaller communities like Craig embrace something like this because it helps them feel like they helped in some way."

During the ceremony members of the Wildkat Cheerleaders read personal essays about Sept. 11, patriotism and family.

The cyclists said they were moved.

"With things like hearing those essays it makes me proud to have come through Craig," Levy said. "I think we'll read a couple of the essays when we arrive in New York."

The bikers have been strengthened on the road by the encouragement and welcome they receive every day. They even have been recognized when they least expected it.

"Beth and I were riding together when a semi truck drove up beside us and the driver asked if we were 'those guys riding for 9/11,'" said Marjanovic. "When we nodded our heads he felt in his pocket, grabbed a $20 bill, reached out the window and I grabbed it while I was still riding."

Vanatta said she was contacted about the event early this year and had been coordinating what she hoped to be an opportunity for the community to come together.

"We just wanted there to be a little bit for everybody," she said.

"It is nice to see your neighbors in a setting other than the supermarket," said Marry Morris, the public information/community education coordinator for Colorado Northwestern Community College. "When you sit down and eat with people you get to interact with them in a much more personal way."

The children at the "College for Kids" program at the college made a banner for the riders Thursday morning and, according to Morris, the riders said they would use it as a backdrop for television interviews once the ride was over.

"Something like this can help us heal from the shock and hurt that we had last September," she said. "The event featured the combination of old and new with the honor of the VFW combined with the youth of a cheerleading performance. You aren't a true community if you don't know your neighbor and see what the community has to offer."

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