20 Years Later, YSU 9/11 Memorial Carries a ‘Heartfelt Connection’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Like most Americans who lived through that day, Anthony Spano remembers exactly where he was when he found out planes had struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Then a student at Youngstown State University, he was just sitting down for his 9:30 a.m. class when his professor broke the news. When class ended, he made his way Kilcalwey Center, where students were already packed in watching the news coverage.

“It was packed with people watching TVs. They were all on. Everyone was watching, stunned at what was happening. That day will live with me for a long time, probably my whole life, as it does for a lot of people,” Spano said.

In the hours that followed, he and his friends “thought about what we could do, how we could make a difference,” he said Wednesday during the YSU history department’s Robert Reeder Speaker Series, which this year is highlighting local connections to historical events. “People were so devastated by the magnitude of what happened that individuals started thinking, ‘What can I do?’ In my mind, we were just looking for something.”

At first, the idea that Spano and Sara O’Brien came up with was to put up a flagpole to honor the people who had died in the 9/11 attacks. At the time, there was no place to fly a flag in the campus core.

Anthony Spano speaks during the Robert Reeder Speaker Series.

“Everyone wanted to be a part of that project. From the facilities department at Youngstown State and the university in general, we had very good support. The vice president of student affairs, Cynthia Anderson, and David Sweet, the president at the time, were very supportive and gave a green light for the resources,” Spano said.

About a week after work started on the flagpole project, Spano learned from the YSU history department that a graduate of the university, Terry Lynch, had died in the attack on the Pentagon, where he was attending a meeting. 

A graduate of Ursuline High School, Lynch went on to Youngstown State and earned with a bachelor of arts degree in 1976 and a master’s in history in 1978. From 1983 to 1995, he worked for Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama and in 1999, began working at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc with an expertise in military and health-care issues. When he died, at age 49, he was a consultant at the Pentagon and sat on commissions for weapons of mass destruction and Gulf War Syndrome.

“That’s when the project gained a whole new meaning. That’s where we really worked with the history department and other departments on campus to come up with an actual memorial that would focus on the campus community,” Spano said.

Spano and O’Brien worked with the Student Art Association to design the memorial that now sits outside Kilcawley Center. It includes a flagpole, two metal markers – one featuring Lynch and another with information about the 9/11 attacks – and four flowerbeds. In the flowerbeds, two have trees planted in them to represent the World Trade Center towers, while the others have shorter bushes to symbolize the Pentagon and the plane that was brought down in Shanksville, Pa.

“Everyone was behind us. Everyone came together to make a difference. That’s what made this something special. We raised between $9,000 and $10,000,” Spano said. “The project was a little more, so we exhausted all our funds and worked with facilities and grounds and some other organizations to make this what it is today.”

Within three weeks of coming up with the initial idea, the designs were finalized and “the rest was handling the logistics of what it would take to make this all work. We had to think of the carpenters, the lighting guys, the bricklayers, the arborists. This really was a community effort to honor the people who lost their lives on Sept. 11,” he said. The memorial was formally dedicated Sept. 11, 2002, with Lynch’s wife, Jackie, among the roughly 2,000 in attendance.

Amy Fluker, a history professor at YSU whose research focuses on war memorials and host of the Reeder Speaker Series, noted that what stands out to her about the memorial is its ability to connect the campus to larger events.

This picture of Terry Lynch is featured on his memorial at YSU.

“[War monuments] are generally placed in spots where they can be seen and appreciated. Think of our union soldier monument downtown on Federal Street; there’s nothing particular that happened at that spot connecting the monument to the history,” she said. “In this case, our 9/11 memorial was constructed to symbolize the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as well as a very real connection to a graduate who was part of this community. There’s a heartfelt connection beyond, ‘This event happened and we can all connect to it in some way.’ ” 

What also stands out, Fluker said, is the amount of text involved in the memorial. The marker memorializing Lynch features a brief biography and images of Congressional honors for the YSU alumnus. On the other marker is a timeline of events on 9/11, pictures of newspaper front pages from national and local outlets including The Jambar and a short explanation of the memorial.

“The ability to provide that context is huge to anyone who wasn’t born or who’s too young to remember that day’s events,” Spano said. 

In addition to the memorial itself, the University Archive at Maag Library also has a trove of documents related to the local response to 9/11, as well as documents from the Lynch family.

But what’s most important to Spano is that it isn’t just a place to remember the attacks that killed 2,977 and injured 25,000 more – not counting the long-term health consequences. It’s that the memorial honors someone that all Penguins can relate to. Lynch was a YSU student just like the hundreds of people who walk past the markers every day.

“From talking with Jackie and the history department, he was a caring man. He cared a lot about his family, about his two daughters. He made a difference in their lives. Jackie would tell me stories about how great of a husband and father he was,” Spano recalled. “It was a perfect match in heaven and when I talked to Jackie, I felt that he was a knight in shining armor to her. In talking to his friends, I got the sense that he was just the kind of person who gave back a lot.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.