By Natalie Bruzda Herald-Standard
CONNELLSVILLE — As students, staff, parents and community members entered the auditorium lobby for the spring musical, they walked past a piece of history.
Recovered from the rubble after the North Tower collapsed on 9/11, a piece of World Trade Center steel now stands in Connellsville Area High School (CAHS).
“It almost at times seems surreal to me until I walk down the hall and see it,” said Linda Shearer, CAHS Patriots sponsor. “This wasn’t a dream. This is real. It’s here. It’s in Connellsville. It’s in a city in one of the most economically depressed counties in Pennsylvania, but the students of this high school, the volunteers with the Patriots, and the support from the community, truly show that this town has heart and cares about others.”Shearer and her organization, the CAHS Patriots, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, were instrumental in bringing the artifact to Connellsville.
A few years ago, she learned that nonprofits that promote patriotism could apply to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) for an artifact.
“I sat down and I wrote the letter explaining our history up to that point,” she said. “It was months before I heard anything. I actually sent a second email, inquiring as to whether or not any decisions had been made.”
And finally, a response came. Shearer received approval from the PANYNJ to secure a remnant from what is now referred to as Ground Zero.
Taking a bus load of school and city officials and supporters of the Patriots, Shearer traveled to New York to obtain the steel.
After taking photographs of the steel in New York, John Pappas, construction manager for the high school renovation project, sent the photos to district architect Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates of Mechanicsburg for the design of the memorial.
The historical piece was stored in the district’s maintenance building until contractors were ready to erect the steel in the auditorium lobby in December.
Although weighing more than 4 tons, the process to mount the steel was relatively easy, Pappas said. It’s now on display for the public to see and for students to learn from.
“The ninth-graders here would have been 3 1/2 or 4 when 9/11 occurred,” Shearer said. “We need to be educators now. It’s our job to let the younger generation know what this represents. It’s a tangible piece of history.”
A message from former President George W. Bush, “These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve,” serves as the backdrop. Shearer said she believes those are fitting words for the memorial.
“I love the quote on the wall,” she said. “You’re in the presence of greatness when you think of the disaster that day, but how America came together and proved what we’re made of. That’s why I say it’s the presence of greatness. It represents that toughness we need to be — we need to remember to keep the free in freedom.”
Shearer said the entire journey actually began 10 years ago in March 2003, when the United States declared war on Iraq. It was on that night that Shearer founded the Patriots.
“I think with the events of 9/11, I was able to draw some students into a different picture, and they were able to contribute to something bigger than they were,” she said.
Erecting the steel is just “one more step on the journey,” she said.
More than 1,000 pieces of steel from the World Trade Center destruction have been distributed around the world.
In addition to the 50 states, Canada, Italy, France, England, Germany and India also have made requests for the steel artifacts.
Of the pieces distributed, 55 are in Pennsylvania.
Shearer’s classroom at CAHS is only three doors down from the auditorium lobby, where the artifact is displayed.
She hopes to hold a dedication ceremony in the fall when the high school renovation is substantially complete.
“To me, it’s a blessing,” Shearer said. “It’s exciting. It’s overwhelming. What words can I use? Because that’s how I feel about all of it.”