By Vicki Rock Daily American
Rob Dennis, the first executive director of the Friends of Flight 93, said that the story of Flight 93 reaches out and touches people across the nation and around the world.
“The world stopped spinning on September 11, 2001,” he said. He and his extended family were overseas that week. He is one of six brothers. One of them had gotten married in France. A second brother made it back to the U.S. before flights were canceled, but their parents only reached London. A third brother was in the air when the attacks occurred and his flight was diverted to Newfoundland. Dennis and his wife, Terry, had not left France, so they stayed there.
“It was very emotional for everybody,” he said. “The level of compassion and concern that was extended to all of us was outstanding.”
Dennis came to the Friends of Flight 93 by a round-about career path. The son of a physician, Dennis majored in psychology at Augusta College. While in college he worked at a Veterans Administration Medical Center where he met his future wife. He was considering a career in public health, but decided against it.
He went into a related health care field, with a business that had mobile scanners for thoracic and abdominal scans and cardiac screening. That type of equipment only has a life cycle of about five years. After that time he decided on a career change.
The National Science Center and the U.S. Army were partnering on a strategic plan for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Dennis relocated to Washington, D.C. and worked on promoting proficiency standards for students in those areas of study.
“I accomplished what the board expected me to accomplish and I started looking at other opportunities,” he said. “A national memorial was not on my radar, but as the organization (Friends of Flight 93) is transitioning to ramp up its fundraising and educational components, this is a good fit.”
Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, said he has heard wonderful things about Dennis.
“I’m excited that the Friends of Flight 93 were in the position to hire a professional to guide them in the future,” he said in a telephone interview. “I am confident that the Friends will continue to provide quality service to the memorial and will work with the National Park Service to fund any future costs.”
National Park Service site Superintendent Jeffrey Reinbold said the staff is thrilled with Dennis joining the team.
“He has the perfect background in fundraising and in educational programs to meet our future needs,” he said. “We look forward to the Friends taking on a bigger role at the memorial.”
The Flight 93 Advisory Commission, Flight 93 Memorial Task Force, National Park Foundation, National Park Service, Families of Flight 93 and the Friends of Flight 93 have been remarkably successful with an abbreviated timetable in raising the money to build the memorial and in building most of it, Dennis said.
“Hats off to all of the partners,” he said. “They established and stayed true to their priorities and remained committed to the reverence of this site. What a spectacular job they’ve done.”
He is impressed by the memorial’s design.
“When designs are simple, by their very nature they are elegant,” he said. “The jury went for a memorial that would not complete with the site itself.”
Dennis, 45, of Augusta, Ga., now lives at Indian Lake. Terry is a registered nurse with the Veterans Administration Medical Center. She and their youngest child, Mary Frances, are still in Augusta because Mary Frances just started her senior year in high school and her parents didn’t want her to have to move. Their daughter, Lauren, is a second grade teacher in Atlanta, and son, Wood, is a junior at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where he is an architecture major.
Dennis’ position as executive director officially started September 9 and the length of his term is in flux, he said. The Flight 93 Advisory Commission’s last meeting is September 10. The Flight 93 Memorial Task Force completed its work in 2010. The Friends of Flight 93 now have an expanded role with the memorial.
His top priority is to work with the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to ensure a seamless transition with the duties that the Friends are taking on.
“We want to capitalize on past successes and continue to succeed,” he said. “Locally, I think we want to look to growing the ambassador and greeter groups. Donna Glessner has done a great job in cultivating the ambassadors organization. I expect their membership will continue to grow.”
He anticipates that the Friends group will reach out to people across Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia as the Friends’ duties increase.