By Zach Geiger Altoona Mirror
IRVONA, PA – A small breeze swept across the Route 53 bridge outside Irvona on Thursday, knocking a portrait of a smiling Mary Ellen Tiesi off its stand.
The portrait was quickly replaced, but Tiesi’s brother, Joe Tiesi, couldn’t help but notice the significance of the lone gust of wind on an otherwise calm morning.
“Mary Ellen is with us,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the Tiesi family, Joe Tiesi thanked the hundreds of friends, residents and political figures in attendance at the dedication ceremony for the Mary Ellen Tiesi Memorial 9-11 Bridge.
The recently completed structure was named after Tiesi, who was killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. An Irvona native and 1980 graduate of Glendale High School, Tiesi was 38 when she died in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
“The tales of heroism from the tragic events that unfolded on that horrific day in 2001 have left their mark on all of us,” PENNDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said. “Ms. Tiesi is not just a Pennsylvania hero but also a national hero. And by dedicating this bridge in her honor and memory, her name will forever stand as a testament to courage and bravery.”
Local representatives, including state Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-Houtzdale, petitioned for the span to be renamed in Tiesi’s honor.
“I am deeply moved by the size of the crowd,” George said at the ceremony held alongside Route 53 just a few hundred feet from the bridge.
George was one of several Pennsylvania lawmakers who fought to secure a piece of steel or smaller artifact from ground zero to be used in the site or in a nearby memorial. Over the course of a year, George made numerous attempts through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, but was unsuccessful, aide Matthew Maciorkoski said.
Despite the setback, the bridge dedication was an appropriate way to honor Tiesi, George said.
He reiterated the story many Irvona residents are now familiar with: Tiesi paused in her escape to ensure her employer, who suffered from a heart condition, made it out.
Tiesi’s employer opted to use the elevator while she continued using the South Tower stairs. Tiesi was killed when the tower collapsed.
“That shining moment of pure goodness cost her her life,” George said.
“Mary Ellen Tiesi was an innocent victim in a war that will never end,” state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, said, adding that he wished he could bring Tiesi back to her family.
In addition to her brother Joe Tiesi, Mary Ellen’s mother, Ellen (Cusick) Tiesi, and her older sister, Theresa Vesnesky, watched as the sign immortalizing their loved one was installed on the bridge.
At the onset of the ceremony, Irvona Mayor P.J. Patterson presented an emotional Ellen Tiesi with a bouquet of flowers on behalf of the Irvona Borough Council as an eight-member color guard looked on.
The entire town came together to honor one of its own, Patterson said. The bridge memorial would serve as an act of remembrance for Tiesi, who made the “ultimate sacrifice” by putting others before herself, he said.
“Here, we build a bridge with pride and purpose – not just stone and steel,” Patterson said.