Special 9/11 Commemorative Issue: Credit union people remember
* John Zimmerman, NAFCU communications manager, was in a meeting with representatives from US Central when one of the gentlemen received a page saying that a couple of planes had hit the World Trade Center. "[M]y immediate thought was no way; there must be something wrong with the message. It got scary for me pretty quickly on two fronts." Zimmerman's wife works at the State Department, where there was a report of a bomb going off, that turned out to be false, and her brother works on Wall Street "and thank God, he came out safely. I feel very fortunate that my experience turned out to be uneventful and I ended up getting the baby out of daycare, going home and waited for a couple hours while my wife walked home." * CUNA Chairman Barry Jolette, CEO of San Mateo Credit Union, had just flown into Washington, D.C. for the grand opening of Credit Union House on September 11. He was lodging in a hotel just two blocks from the Pentagon when the tragic events of that day were coming to a head. He was still sitting in his hotel room, shades drawn, and television off, prepping for an interview with Credit Union Times when "I heard the boom and felt the hotel shake. `Well, there's a lot of construction going on,' " he thought. He waited 10 minutes, then thought to turn the TV on and discovered what the noise really was. "There was just people everywhere.It wasn't panic at all. It was just deliberate movement of people just trying to get wherever they were going wherever that was," Jolette said. He successfully attempted to carry on business as usual by remote until he was able to get a flight back to California. * "We just happened to have the TV on," NCUA Information Specialist Cherie Umbel remembered. Former fellow public relations officer Brian Olexy was working on getting a pilots' license at the time. "Brian came into my office and said this plane had hit the World Trade Center. It was such a beautiful day that day. He knew about planes. He said that no plane should be in that airspace; No plane should be anywhere near that building." * CUNA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs John McKechnie had a packed schedule for Tuesday, September 11, 2001. "I was heading for a breakfast meeting with the California credit union people over at a hotel here. As I was driving over they broke into a song to say that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center," the lobbyist said. As he relayed the story to the people he was meeting with, their server told them another plane had hit the other tower. The Californians had a big day planned, including a visit to NCUA. McKechnie told California Credit Union League President and CEO Dave Chatfield, "I have a feeling your entire day's worth of events are going to be cancelled." McKechnie also had two meetings on the Hill that were cancelled. The following Friday, he had lunch with some Hill staffers, who normally prefer to meet close to work, but suggested that lunch be elsewhere in Washington. They were back to work but still uncomfortable with the situation, he observed. McKechnie added that the attack on the Pentagon has been overshadowed by the events that occurred in New York City. "Sometimes, I think victims at the Pentagon were somewhat forgotten about." * CUNA offices were buzzing with anticipation on September 11, the day of the long-awaited opening of Credit Union House on Capitol Hill. CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica recalled, "At approximately 8:40 a.m. that day, our thoughts and anticipation of what was to come completely evaporated in the face of what had just happened." He was in the midst of his morning commute when he heard on the radio about the crashes into the Twin Towers and then the nearby Pentagon. "It was clear once I got into the office that nothing was clear," Mica explained. "Much confusion and chaos had broken out, as evidenced by television and radio reports. What couldn't be denied, however, was that something horrific and oddly unique had just happened. The live pictures beaming from my office TV set displayed an unimaginable and almost unrealistic scene. But smoke, billowing from just across the Potomac and ominously visible from our offices on the third floor, confirmed that what was happening was all too real." "We are under attack; we are at war," was all I could think. Mica's brother, Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.), was scheduled to meet at the Pentagon with several Department of Defense officials, including Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Dan Mica's son and niece also both work on Capitol Hill. After phoning his wife, Mica discovered that his son and niece were OK, but it was after some delay that he learned his brother was also safe. "Shortly afterward, we were informed that the Secret Service, charged with protecting the White House, had thrown up a defensive perimeter two blocks out in every direction from the Executive Mansion. Our offices were included in the perimeter. What we didn't know, but would soon discover, was that a fourth airliner-apparently headed for the White House-had crashed in Pennsylvania." *"My first thought upon realizing what had happened, as President Bush aptly described later, was that these terrorist attacks were first and foremost `cowardly.' I knew something significant had happened in this area because I felt the building shake when AA Flight 77 hit the Pentagon - about a mile away from NAFCU headquarters," NAFCU President and CEO Fred Becker said. He said he will never forget the flight information because the pilot had been a classmate of his at the Naval Academy. On another personal note, one of Becker's daughters was working in an office directly across from the White House at the time of the attacks. "Thankfully, further attacks did not follow and she was able to walk to and later catch the metro to NAFCU's headquarters," he commented. "My immediate concern was for the employees of our member credit unions located in downtown Manhattan in and around the World Trade Center, as well as at the Pentagon," Becker said. He was able to contact XCEL Federal Credit Union President/CEO Jim Wisnieski and Stacey Porter, president and CEO of FAA Eastern Region Federal Credit Union the next morning, as well as the staff of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. He discovered that none of the employees of NAFCU member credit unions had been physically harmed. About a week after the attacks, NAFCU put together some food items and a huge card for the firehouse directly across the street from its Arlington, Va. headquarters. "These heroes next door were the first to arrive on the seen at the Pentagon and were still working non-stop," Becker said the trade organization discovered. * Los Angeles Firemen's CU Vice President Marketing/Training Dixie Abramian was with members of the senior management team at an off-site planning meeting at the Holiday Inn in Burbank, California. "We were all just in shock and we realized that there would be a great outpouring for those affected by the tragedy and the need for a deposit location. So we set in motion the opening of the NYC Fallen Firefighter Account to receive donations for the victims' families. That account was open and ready to receive deposits on September 12." * "The anniversary of September 11 brings back most poignantly to me the remembrance of my visit to Ground Zero last November, just a few weeks after the attack," NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar said. "As I stood there amidst devastation similar to what I had seen at the Pentagon from my office windows on the day of the attack, I could not help but ponder how man's absolute best and worst attributes were represented in the massive rubble scene I saw before me. The worst in man was reflected in a willingness by some to kill in cold blooded hatred thousands of innocent people for their own self-centered cause, but mercifully the best in man was also reflected on that same day when total strangers proved themselves willing to risk and even give their own lives in an attempt driven by love and sacrifice to save others during those same tragic events inspired by others hate. I remain both touched and challenged by the events of September 11 and pray that my God will help me to learn from them the lessons of good-love and sacrifice for my fellow man-and will demonstrate to all of us the price that is paid for the evils of hatred and lack of respect for human life." * CU Service Corporation Vice President Marketing/Communications Craig Beach was concerned about his dad's well-being, understandably so as he was in Washington, D.C. "I was in the office listening to the radio and being service centers we were listening to see if any service centers were involved. Ironically my dad Carroll Beach was in Washington that day and when I first tried his cell phone at 9:30 a.m. he was in a meeting so he didn't answer. And it was interesting that when you don't think you are directly involved it turns out you actually are. I was able to get in touch with him by 9:45 but it was a pretty trying thing." * Design-build firm DEI's Marketing Manager Tami Linton had an airline pilot wife's perspective on the attacks. "I was working in the design center and someone found out about first crash and came up to tell us. And we all sat there just in shock. Ten to 15 minutes later we heard about the Pentagon. We then went downstairs and sat around in an exercise room just watching the news and it was just deathly quiet. It hit close to home for me because my husband is a pilot for Delta but fortunately he wasn't working that day. But a lot of our friends are pilots and my husband knew the pilot who had his throat cut. We were told by Richard (Grow) that anyone who needed to be home should just go and they brought in lunch for us and we were glued to the television." * Mid-Minnesota FCU Vice President Marketing Martin J. Kelly, was getting ready for work when the first plane hit. "I remember vividly showing up at the office and asking my assistant if she heard what was going on and then we went into the break room turned on the television and saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. And all day there was this huge silence and mass confusion that the rest of country I'm sure was experiencing. Throughout our lobbies we have television monitors that run promotional information, but that day we just switched every monitor to Fox and CNN news for our members. Everyone was just craving additional news that day so our members were learning about the events along with us." Rosenthal: An evil cloud surrounded us. NEW YORK - On the 10th floor of the 35-floor 120 Wall Street building, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions' (NFCDCU) offices are about 10-12 blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center (WTC). On the day when two hijacked planes brought the Twin Towers down, the morning had begun normally. The first intimation that NFCDCU Executive Director Cliff Rosenthal had that something was wrong came when a staff member, who takes the subways through the Center, reported that a plane hit the WTC. Later another employee, who commuted from New Jersey, called in that he would be late because the trains weren't being allowed into the World Train Center station. Soon afterward the second plane hit the second tower. Rosenthal reported that no one on the staff initially panicked but there was anxiety about what was going on and worry about accounting for loved ones and associates. Then, a little after 10:00, the South Tower collapsed, filling the air around the NFCDCU with a gray cloud of dust and debris that Rosenthal described as making the beautiful fall day appear almost like winter. But, a few minutes later, Rosenthal reported, the cloud nearest the offices "remarkably" dissipated and the staff could see the clouds of individual sheets of paper, individual pages from the different firms that had space in the South Tower, drifting down across the East River. But when the North Tower fell at about 10:30, Rosenthal said, "an evil dense black cloud" rolled out from the site and the staff stopped being able to see anything more than 50 feet outside their windows. The Federation lost its phone lines and electricity after the second tower fell so there wasn't any purpose in keeping any of the staff. Everyone had stayed after the first tower had fallen, feeling that they were safer in the offices than outside. Rosenthal let the staff go at 1:00 in the afternoon but stayed himself at the offices to see if the cloud would clear. He finally left at 5:00, stopping at a hospital for a mask to keep at least some of the dust out of his lungs, and walked home. The city seemed abandoned, Rosenthal recalled, and he remembered seeing food carts standing discarded and the streets empty. The NFCDCU staff wasn't able to get back into the building for more than a week, Rosenthal reported, and when they did it was by walking past the cables and racket of portable generators. Then, and for weeks afterwards, the building remained on edge. Rosenthal reported on the first day back the building experienced a bomb scare about what turned out to be an innocent package. "Our building is only 35 stories, small for Manhattan, and we are on the 10th floor," Rosenthal said, but the building's evacuation was slow, tense and crowded. "For a moment it was possible to imagine what it must been like in those towers at that horrible moment," he said. * CUES President/CEO Fred Johnson was overseas at the time of the attack. "I was at the London Business School for the Directors Leadership Institute. I remember it was about three days in and I saw a few students, directors for credit unions and one CEO whispering about something. Then we heard the news and were just stunned. There was not a lot being said. We did gather together to see how everyone was doing and what we could do to help because some of the students in classes were with Municipal Credit Union and there were also a few retired firemen. What made things interesting is that our hotel the Hilton Metropole is at the edge of a Muslim community and when we were walking down the street that day the people just wouldn't make eye contact with you and everyone seemed to be embarrassed. And what struck me was just the outpouring of sympathy. Anyone who'd recognize us as Americans would just offer their condolences. And so many people including me stood in long lines to get to the embassy and in front there was just a ton of flowers."