by BETH ALTENA
United Bank’s CEO and president Art Johnson, honorary chair of the West Michigan Healing Fields, has stepped up to present his bank as Field Sponsor for the memorial tribute to those killed on 9/11. The bank gave the project a $10,000 check Tuesday, May 24. According to Nancy Martin, manager of the Rockford branch of United Bank, the area tribute to those lost in the terrorist attack is likely to result in national media coverage.
Martin said the tribute will take place on the 10th anniversary of the attack—a milestone memorial—and this Healing Fields event will be one of the biggest in the country. “It’s very expensive to put on, but we felt we had to go full bore with it.”
The parent organization of the West Michigan Healing Fields is the Rockford Area Community Endowment (RACE), which put up the $50,000 required to stage the event. The public, organizations and businesses are invited to buy one of the three-by-five-foot flags at just $75, which are limited to 3,200—the number of people who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Martin said she is excited her company CEO wasted no time deciding to be a major sponsor and is already joined by such familiar names as Meijer, Grand Rapids Press, Ingraberg Farms and others. Flag sales are currently underway as well. “This is going to be so huge,” she noted.
Johnson spoke during a press conference held at Cannonsburg Ski Area, where the display and associated memorial events will take place. He talked about the affect the attacks had on the country and the world and how all Americans’ lives have changed as a result. For United Bank, there was a personal connection to the tragedy. The legal team employed by the institution was located in the Trade Towers and every one of them lost their lives that day.
Johnson himself, the former chairman of the American Banking Association, had been scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C. that day and had a late morning, so he postponed his flight.
The flags will fly on eight-foot poles, a “living display of heroism,” which will be a temporary tribute to the strength and unity of Americans. Flags may be dedicated in honor of an individual, and those who sponsor one will be allowed to keep the flag after all ceremonies are completed.
Martin said 21 of the people who died in the attacks were from Michigan and she was quick to point out that, although the event will be held in Rockford, it is much bigger than that and is for this entire area of the state. American Legions from West Michigan have already committed to holding their ceremonies there for the day, and many other groups, such as Boy Scouts, fire departments, Kent County Sheriff’s Department and other organizations, are also expected to participate.
Events in honor of the heroic behavior of so many people during and following the attacks will take place over five days. Prior, a roving display of flags have been traveling West Michigan to increase awareness of the upcoming tribute. The memorial will be open to the public 24 hours a day and will include a Salute to Heroes to honor rescue personnel and first responders; a memorial service held by the American Legion on 9/11; moments of silence commemorating the crashes of the American Airlines and United Airlines at 8:46, 9:03 and 10 a.m.; and a Lessons Learned expressions of tributes by West Michigan students, including poems, essays, visual arts and music composition. The flags will be raised Friday, September 9 in a Rise to Glory celebration.
The tribute is created by the Colonial Flag Foundation, which has been holding similar memorials across the country since 2002. To find out more or to sponsor a flag, visit online at www.healingfield.org/west-michigan-2011/.