On Wednesday, March 7, the Tribute WTC Visitor Center held a dedication ceremony for a unique object. Terry Truelove and Gerry Stewart, two employees from the Costco store in Hazlet, NJ, preserved their community’s expressions of empathy and patriotism in the months after September 11, 2001. As a store greeter, Terry Truelove wore her vest to work on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 and put a U.S. flag pin on it. In the days that followed, many customers who came into the store added their own pins to the vest. “They wanted to feel connected to 9/11. The vest gave them a place to hang their heart,” said Terry’s colleague, Gerry Stewart.
The vest, covered with pins of all types, shows the unity that Americans felt after 9/11. There are pins from police, firefighters, branches of the military, and pins from personal jewelry collections. Multiple versions of the Twin Towers, and hearts and flags in enamel, rhinestone, marcasite, beads and fabric adorn the bright red vest. When the vest got too heavy for Terry to wear, the women put it in a case and displayed it in the store. As the 10th anniversary of September 11th approached, they decided they wanted the vest to be shared. Tribute docent Douglas Weir suggested to the women that they donate it to the Tribute Center.
At the dedication ceremony, Terry and Gerry told the story of how the vest came to be adorned with pins and shared their feelings about the donors of the pins and the people who worked to preserve the vest. The Costco managers and employees who attended the event were very moved to see their story represented at the Tribute Center.
After the dedication, Lee Ielpi spoke with fourth grade students from Public School 16 in Corona, Queens, about 9/11 and used the vest as a symbol of the community support and patriotism after 9/11. “At the Tribute Center, we aim to give a better understanding to students through audio installations, videos, artifacts, and objects that speak and tell a story. The Costco vest shares the impact of 9/11 on just one community, but students learn how small change can begin with a gesture and impact the world,” said Lee Ielpi.
Many of the Tribute docents that speak with school groups have a mission to share this message which is essential to Tribute’s educational programs. Ann Van Hine, who lost her husband on 9/11, often speaks of the comfort and healing that others brought to her family through small acts of kindness. Anthony Palmeri, a former sanitation worker, and Bill Spade, a former firefighter, both share personal experiences related to the power of how their community came together and provided the strength to help healing take place and help the city to recover. “9/11 was our city’s darkest and yet brightest hour,” is often expressed to students. “Museum objects are filled with meaning that visitors can understand and remember. This vest is a tangible expression of the sentiment our docents often share with students. They will share the meaning to inspire students to provide an act of kindness to someone in their own community” said Wendy Aibel-Weiss, Director of Exhibits and Education at the Tribute Center.