Sixteen years later, the pain still lingers.
Ordinary people like you and me — that’s what Sept. 11, 2001 was all about. Here is just one of the many stories about that day.
For Stephen Hoffman, that day probably started just the same as it did for so many days before — he kissed his wife Gabrielle good-bye, told his daughter Madelyn he loved her, and headed off to work.
Stephen Hoffman — successful guy in his late-30s, college graduate, class clown, carrot-orange hair, in charge of a youth football league, a twin — and just one of the thousands of innocent victims who lost their lives on that cruel September morning.
Stephen Hoffman worked for Cantor-Fitzgerald, a company that lost 700 employees when an airplane struck the World Trade Center towers on that tragic day.
On the Buffalo State College campus in the mid-1980s there was not a person who didn’t know the Hoffman twins. Both active and enormously popular on campus, Greg was Student Government President and Stephen was a Resident Assistant (RA) in a dormitory.
Stephen and I were dormitory resident assistants together during our senior years at Buffalo State — ironically in a dorm called Tower Two. As many of you may know from your own experiences, RA staffs at college tend to become like a family — and for that year — Stephen was one of my brothers.
I remember our senior year at Buffalo State, on Christmas break our 10-person RA staff met at Stephen’s family’s house in Flushing, New York — just a few blocks from where the US Open Tennis Tournament is played each year. We all attended a party in New York City on New Year’s Eve and walked the streets of NYC on New Year’s Day.
I especially remember all of the great times we had as a staff — dressing up for Halloween, making dinners, going bowling — just 10 college-aged men and women who, for a year, were linked as a family.
Stephen called everyone BABE — men and women alike — in a time before it was not politically incorrect to do so.
In some way, Stephen Hoffman is partly responsible for me living in London today. He is a main reason I enjoyed my RA experience so much that when I went to graduate school at Miami University I was a dorm director. It was at Miami that I met my wife — and that is how — after some stops along the way — that I ended up in London.
The Stephen Hoffman story is just one of many thousands that needs to be told about the events which happened what seems like decades ago. He was not a pro athlete or a Grammy-winning singer, but a regular hard-working person like all of us.
As then-President George W. Bush said soon after the tragedy — in this time of confusion that our country is now in, it is important that we keep hold of our families, our friends, our communities, our country.
This past April, I took my eldest son Aaron and his four other “Nerd Herd” buddies on a senior year Spring Break trip, which included New York City. On the day we went to NYC, the 9/11 Museum and adjacent Memorial were our first stops. For several hours, these young men — in their infancy at the time of the tragedy — soaked in the history, but most of all learned about the people.
What they absorbed from the stories about Stephen and so many others; this was not a time of fear for America, but rather a time of rebirth — a rebirth of patriotism and the ideals of freedom our founding fathers fought so hard for. We need to uphold that pledge to our country — that we are still one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
As Americans, we still owe that to the memories of the people who lost their lives 16 years ago.
As a friend, I owe that to Stephen Hoffman.
Beginning in today’s edition, columnist Jeff Gates will be authoring a weekly column entitled ‘Life Happens’ to appear in The Madison Press. He has been a freelance writer for The Madison Press since 1996.