It was a day of warm remembrances and sad farewells as loved ones of the victims of Continental Flight 3407 gathered for memorial services across the region.
In Clarence, a town's communitywide grief bore a public face Saturday at a standing-room-only service for Douglas Wielinksi.
More than 1,000 people packed the auditorium at Clarence Middle School to "celebrate the life" of Wielinski, who was killed when Continental Flight 3407 crashed into his house last week. His wife, Karen, and their daughter, Jill, who were also home, miraculously survived.
At St. Joseph University Church in Buffalo, about 500 friends and loved ones of Beverly Eckert joined in prayer, song, poetry and tributes.
Eckert, who grew up in Amherst but had been living in Stamford, Conn., before the crash, lost her husband, Sean Rooney, in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. They were on the phone together when the South Tower, where he was trapped on the 105th floor, crumbled.
In Clarence, people in the crowd listened, wept and even laughed as friends and family remembered a man who was part builder, part veteran, part historian and, who, above all else, excelled at being a husband and father.
Karen Wielinski, in a remembrance read by family friend Chris Liede, recalled the first time she met her husband, then a young softball player, and how their passion for each other endured for decades.
"He was one of the good guys," she said. "I can still look at him and feel the thrill I felt when I first saw that curly haired catcher."
It was a day for family members, dozens of them, to express why Doug Wielinski was so special to them and why it hurts so much to have lost him.
"If he's listening now," his daughter, Jill, wrote in a note read by friend Annmarie Dean, "I want him to know I'll always be his little girl."
On a stage dotted with flowers, photos and a wreath with 50 white roses -- one for each victim of Flight 3407 -- Wielinski's brother Bill spoke of a selfless man who would disapprove of the attention given to his death.
He also did his best to comprehend why his brother is gone.
"God wanted him more in heaven than he wanted him down here," he said, his voice cracking.
For the Town of Clarence -- the site of the plane crash and home to many who died in it -- the service was a time to grieve collectively, a time for friends and neighbors to come together.
"If there is anyone in this community who has not grieved, who has not shed a tear, who has not thought about their own mortality," said Monsignor Frederick Leising, a family friend, "such people are barely human."
About 20 family members of Sept. 11 victims from New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Western New York participated in Eckert's memorial service Saturday morning. After the church bell rang 50 times, once for each victim of the crash, the Sept. 11 family members lit red votive candles arranged on white pedestals on either side of the altar.
Determined to make sure such an attack could never happen again and that her husband did not die in vain, Eckert became a tireless activist, demanding accountability and pushing for reforms.
When she died, Eckert was on her way to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband's 58th birthday with family members and to present scholarships named in Rooney's honor.
Eckert's family took turns paying homage to her.
Her sister-in-law, Cynthia Blest, read a passage from the Book of Proverbs. Her brother, Ray Eckert, read a selection from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech about taking action.
Her sister, Margot Eckert, read a poem she wrote about the many facets of her sister, from the spry little girl she had been who loved to play hide-and-seek and hopscotch, to the artist and lover of music, especially Bach and Ella Fitzgerald, to the tireless advocate she became.
"Strong woman, my sister. Asking questions, getting answers. Pushing governments, prodding presidents, speaking justice," she read.
Eckert's brother-in-law, Bill Bourque, also reflected on her relentless drive in the face of losing her husband.
"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, she gained access to the powerful and became well-known and well-respected. We knew she was not in it for herself. She was in it so that this should never happen to anyone again. Because of her, our nation became a safer place. She was one of the main reasons the powerful moved at all, because nothing is more powerful than the simple, clear truth," he said.
Chamber singers from the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, where Eckert had gone to school, sang, and mourners hugged each other wiping away each other's tears.
Kathleen Lynch of Snyder, whose brother Michael was a New York City firefighter who lost his life in the attack on the twin towers, said Eckert's death has hit other 9/1 1 family members hard.
"It's incomprehensible," Lynch said after the service. "Of course, it's a difficult thing. We have learned that every day is a day to be treasured. That's how you have to look at life. How you live it is really your choice. I think Beverly showed that's what she did. That's what she chose to do after suffering a terrible loss. She was a great inspiration to all of us."
Other services also were held Saturday.
Brad S. Green Sr., of Clarence, was memorialized at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence, where he had worshipped with his wife.
In Niagara County, David Borner, who worked with Green at Kraft Foods, was remembered during a service in Pendleton Center United Methodist Church.
In Fort Erie, Ont., hundreds gathered in St. Michael's Catholic Church to remember Don McDonald, for 26 years technical manager of Pharmetics Inc., and who is survived by his wife, Elaine, and young daughter.
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