Frank Siller admits it remains difficult each year when Sept. 11 approaches, even with all the great things being done by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
Siller’s younger brother, Stephen Siller, was one of the 343 firefighters who lost their life at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He was 34 and left behind his wife Sarah and five young children—Stephen, Jake, Olivia, Genevieve and Katherine. The Stephen Siller family belongs to Sacred Heart parish on Staten Island. All five children are graduates of the parish school and are attending or have graduated from Catholic high schools on Staten Island.
Stephen was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he called Sarah and said he was voluntarily going to Manhattan to assist the first responders. With traffic stalled at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Stephen left his vehicle, hauling over 60 pounds of his FDNY fireman’s gear as he ran through the tunnel to reach the towers.
“On September 10, he was on top of the world. He had the love of his family, a beautiful wife and five beautiful children. He was on top of the world and he was willing to sacrifice all that when he was called to duty,” said Frank Siller, CEO and chairman of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament on Staten Island.
“Stephen was dynamic in how he lived his life. He was doing stuff for everyone and how he died showed us so much and inspired us to be better people.”
The Siller family decided to keep Stephen’s memory alive by starting a foundation and an annual 5K race/walk tracing Stephen’s final steps on Sept. 11 through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into Lower Manhattan. This year’s 5K in New York City on Sunday, Sept. 25, is expected to have more than 25,000 entries, compared to some 2,500 in 2002. There are now 28 other cities across the country holding Tunnel to Towers 5K Race/Walk in September.
“We had no lofty goals for the foundation. We wanted to do a run and it has taken off from there,” Frank Siller said.
Brooklyn’s Trish McCormick is running the race in 2016 for the first time.
“I’m super excited,’’ said Ms. McCormick. “Running the course, knowing someone did it selflessly to save people’s lives, is going to be emotional for me.”
The foundation has raised more than $70 million for various causes, including:
• building smart homes to meet the special needs of U.S. Armed Services members who have a 100 percent disability rating from the medical board of their respective branch. Fifty-six homes have either been built or are in the process of being built. A smart home costs around $600,000 and the foundation hopes to build 200.
• assisting Hurricane Sandy relief efforts with $12 million in donations for supplies and more than 1 million donated man-hours.
• helping families of fallen NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos by paying off their mortgages and renovating their homes. Liu and Ramos were shot and killed from point-blank range while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn in 2014.
“It does take up a lot of our time, but it’s such a beautiful thing. We are really making a difference here and what a way to live your life,” Frank Siller said.
Stephen Siller was orphaned when he was 10 years old; his parents, George and Mae, passed away within a two-year period. His siblings—Russ, George, Janis, Mary, Regina and Frank, who was closest in age to Stephen, being 14 years older—raised him. The George Siller family belonged to Blessed Sacrament parish on Staten Island.
Stephen met and married Sarah, known as Sally, and they had three daughters and two sons.
The Siller family will get together on Sept. 11 as they always do. Frank Siller said the atmosphere is usually quiet, with some laughs, because Stephen “gave us a lot of material.”
The family’s story will be told in a documentary, “For the Love of Their Brother,” on PBS networks across the country this month, including WNET (Channel 13) on Sunday, Sept. 11, at 12:30 p.m.
In the coming days, the foundation will begin collecting donations for its new program, Stand Tall, with a goal of collecting one million donations of $11.
“I think he’s smiling,” Frank Siller said. “He’s saying thank you for all the foundation’s done and he’s most grateful we love his kids and his wife. We would never let him down and we will never let them down.”
Information: tunnel2towers.org and (718) 987-1931.