3,000 candles: Tallmadge remembers 9/11

Candles line the sidewalk outside the Tallmadge Church in Tallmadge, Ohio, to commemorate the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The organizers of the event set up 2,976 candles, one for every victim of the attacks.

Arkayla Tenney-Howard

As the sun set Monday night, citizens of Tallmadge met in the town’s center to relight candles in remembrance of the lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

They gathered to light nearly 3,000 candles, each representing a life lost. Over 2,500 candles were white, representing the civilian lives lost; 55 were green, representing military personnel at the Pentagon; 60 were blue, representing police officers; and 343 were red, representing firefighters.

Each year since the attacks, the Tallmadge firefighters have organized volunteers to set out the candles early in the morning. Every year, Chief Mike Passarelli gives a speech about the events of that day, and residents are allowed to roam the park, taking pictures and remembering the lives lost.

“A lot of fellow firefighters, 343, died that day,” Passarelli said. “Each year it is overwhelming to see these candles.”

The candles flicker throughout the day, then as the sun sets, the town comes back into the park to relight the candles and see them against the night sky.

“You walk the paths. You see the lights, and you realize the significance of each life,” Kristina Bennett said.

Bennett came to the park with her 13-year-old daughter, Aileena Sargeant. After watching videos about 9/11 in class, Sargeant, an aspiring photographer, wanted to go to the park.

“I want to remember this day,” Sargeant said. “I love knowing that so many people risked their lives to save others.”

Bennett’s family was joined by many others coming to pay their respects. Rhonda Dapice, a Florida resident who is currently in Ohio due to Hurricane Irma, attended the event with her daughter and grandchildren.

Shortly after 9/11, Dapice’s husband, former owner of Joe’s Auto in Stow, partnered with Dave Kennemore, owner of Mainstreet Saloon in Akron, to raise money for New York residents. They collected items throughout the town and auctioned them for 10 weeks. Auctions were hosted by the late Akron radio star Matt Patrick. In the end, the funds were donated to the city of New York and used to purchase an additional fire truck.

“I thought this was just a memorial, but this is different,” Dapice said. “I am so touched by this display.”

Multiple had personal connections to the event. Steve Thompson, who served 12 years in the military, came to the vigil for the first time since moving to Ohio. Thompson lit 50 candles before stepping back to pay his respects.

“Knowing every candle is one person is different than reading a number. It really shows what we lost,” Thompson said. 

Some were first-timers. Others, like Ralph Jordan, have attended this event efor many years. He explained that in the first years, a few volunteers came to the park and spent three to four hours setting out candles. This year, the 30 volunteers put out the candles in only one hour.

The entire event is run by the town. Local businesses donate money to purchase new candles every five years. AI Root Company in Medina, Ohio, provides the candles at the exact production price, which is only one dollar per candle.

“The town is not forgetting. They keep coming out, and that’s what is important to me,” Passarelli said. “They’ll be coming here all night. A community like this, in the center of town, honoring these people is remarkable.”

The events of the day are unforgettable for Passarelli. He was attending a retired police officer’s funeral mid-afternoon on 9/11. As the casket was carried through the parking lot, Passarelli recalls talking to his friends about a plane flying low in the sky, then taking a sharp turn left. Later, Passarelli realized this plane could have been Flight 93 taking its turn.

Shortly after sunset, the entire crowd stood in silence as a fire truck drove by with sirens blaring. Hearing the sirens and watching the candles flicker took many people back to 2001.

Citizens of Tallmadge and its surrounding areas continued to light the candles throughout the night.

“This event reminds me of how much I love this country,” Jordan said. “No matter what your beliefs are, we pull together.”

Arkayla Tenney-Howard is a religion reporter. Contact her at [email protected]