As you are probably aware, today is the 14th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks in America.
On September 11th 2001 four airplanes were hijacked and used to carry out suicide attacks. One hit the Pentagon, another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania before it could hit its target, and the other two crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York.
But on this day of memorial, there’s at least one happy story to be told.
The investment banking firm Sandler O’Neill & Partners had an office in the south tower of the World Trade Center. When the planes hit 66 of their staff of 83 were killed.
The men and women who died left behind 76 children.
In the days after the disaster the bosses of Sandler O’Neill had many decisions to make about their business. But the most important one is probably their decision to set up a foundation to pay the college tuition of all the kids who lost parents that day.
The Sandler O’Neill Foundation has so far put 54 young men and women through college, with 22 still eligible, Oregon Live reports.
The kids have gone to a range of different colleges, from Stanford to Notre Dame, to community colleges and technical institutions. Four have even attended Boston College, the alma mater of Welles Crowther, another hero of 9/11.
24-year-old Crowther worked for Sandler O’Neill, and he managed to save the lives of 12 people that day. He ran up the stairs to try and rescue even more people, but was never seen again.
Andy Armstrong, a friend of Sandler’s surviving partner, Jimmy Dunne, helped set up the foundation, along with other friends, colleagues and competitors.
We were up and running by the end of the first week. We wanted the families of the lost to know that we would always remember, that the passing years would never sweep this under the rug. People donated many millions of dollars to set up the foundation. We have no salaries and no expenses except fees to stay extant. Yes, I know most of the children who went to college. You wouldn’t believe some of the letters they have written in appreciation. I think they particularly appreciate that we remember their mom or dad this way. Many of them hardly knew their moms and dads.
Jimmy Dunne also summed up the company’s act of generosity:
Because there was a moment in time to stand up. Because we believed that what we did would echo for a hundred years in the families of our people, their kids and their grandkids. Because how we conducted ourselves in those first few hours and days would define who we really were and what we were about. Because I knew that if we were not honorable, then we stood for nothing. I remember staring at bin Laden’s smirking face on television, on Sept. 11, and concluding immediately that we would not be intimidated, we would not go out of business, we will come back stronger than ever, and be an example of people who worked and lived with honor. And that meant taking care of our people and their children with respect and reverence. So we did that. We figured what we did and how we did it was our way of fighting idiots like bin Laden. You want us to fall apart? Then we will survive and flourish. You want to destroy us? Then we will insist even more on acting with honor. That’s what the foundation was for, is for. We want our defiance and reverence to echo for a century, so that the grandchildren of our people will know we stood for something, and acted honorably when it really counted.
Our thoughts go out to the friends and families of everyone affected by this terrible event.