The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 unified the nation, and nearly a decade later the memory continues to unite the Mason community.
Mason resident Colleen Briggs has taken on the task of leading her community in remembrance of 9/11 with the annual Mason Cares event.
“The attack tried to break our spirit but it only made us stronger,” Briggs said. “I think of it as something we have to remember each year and pass down the powerfulness of the event to our children.”
Mason Cares, which took place from 1-7 p.m. at the James M. Pelton Memorial Fire Station at 221 W. Ash St., was a success despite imperfect weather.
“The turn out was a little bit lighter this year than in years past maybe because people thought it was cancelled,” she said. “Since we always have it on the actual Sept. 11, the weather always depends—we’ve had rain before but never all day long like this year.”
The event, which has taken place since 2002 supports the Mason Fire Department, a volunteer station whose members donate their time and are ready at a moment’s notice to serve the community. Mason Cares honors not only the fallen emergence personnel of 9/11 but also the community’s own emergency workers.
“People need to look past their petty frustration with a little traffic ticket and remember these people are here for us and at a moment’s notice they stop whatever they’re doing to help us.” Briggs said.
As organizer Briggs starts preparation months in advance writing letters to local businesses, organizations, newspapers and schools informing the community of the event and in the weeks before the event receives an outpouring of community support from volunteers to monetary donations.
“She is really the backbone of the whole event,” Mason fire chief Kerry Minshall said. “It is very personal with her, she works late hours on the event and her own work is set off to the side because she is so busy with preparation for Mason Cares.”
For Briggs who spends countless hours setting up the event 9/11 is something to be observed annually.
“There were 343 firefighters who ran toward the towers while everyone else was running away and more than 10,000 people were saved from the towers—that is more that the entire city of Mason,” Briggs said. “Mason Cares is people coming together to honor not only fire and police officers but also celebrate each other and come together as a community.”
At the day time event volunteers of all ages worked together on activities ranging from cleaning and waxing fire trucks to landscaping to putting together fire safety packets for elementary school fire prevention week. The day ends with refreshments and a memorial service to remember the fallen.
“The two events compliment each other very nicely,” Minshall said. “I’m very happy that Mason does this, I think it says a lot about our city and all our emergency workers and how much we really do care.”
Directly following the day event, the community comes together again for the brief memorial service.
“It is a very moving ceremony—everyone agrees,” memorial service coordinator and 38 year fire department veteran Norm Austin said. “It’s a really emotional thing and everyone involved is absolutely amazing and talented.”
The ceremony, which only lasts about 45 minutes, features members of the community including main male and female singers and new this year a video of Red Skeleton’s pledge of allegiance.
“The way our male singer sings “I’m proud to be an American” can bring tears to anyone’s eyes…it’s one of the highlights of the day,” Austin says.
While usually held in the station’s memorial garden, this year’s event was relocated inside due to weather, but the garden remains a visible year-round tribute to fallen heroes. The Mason station is in line to receive a piece of steel from the original towers for its garden.
“People involved in New York thought they would give people outside the city who they though would appreciate it something to commemorate the terrible event,” Austin said, “We’re just waiting to receive it and install it with plaque.”
Mason’s connection with the events of Sept. 11, 2001 runs deep. The community experienced great loss in August of the same year, when the fire department lost its chief, James Pelton, in a car accident on the line of duty only one month prior to sending fire fighters to New York after the World Trade Center disaster.
“We felt we had to recognize what was going on and Mason Cares became the way our community decided to do it,” Austin said. “It’s especially important that we preserve the memory of this day because so many elementary school children weren’t born yet and don’t have the memory to take from, so it is our job to pass it down to them.”
Mason Cares connects all community members from senior citizens to high school and elementary school children into one commemorative event that has no signs of slowing down.
“After 9-11 we wanted to do something to take this big negative and do something positive,” Minshall said. “Mason Cares is tradition, and the focus looking forward is teaching younger generations about what happened. We have a whole generation in elementary school kids who didn’t live it first hand, eventually they will need to know why there are soldiers in Afghanistan…It is our job to pass that down.”
The choice to honor the city’s fire department is an obvious choice for Mason Cares, the event intends to simultaneously honor both past and present fight fighters.
“Anyone in the fire service can really understand,” Minshall said, “I still get goose bumps and a little angry watching the replays of the towers coming down , but also I get a little happy about the positive that has come out of it.”