Ways Ocala/Marion will mark 9/11 Day
A number of events beginning Friday, Sept. 10, at the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park have been planned to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Events start Sept. 10 with the arrival and setup of a 9/11 Remembrance Wall, which will be escorted to the park by an expected 300 or more motorcycle riders from veterans-related groups and private riders.
An opening ceremony will be held on Saturday, Sept. 11, at 8:30 a.m. at the park, 2601 E. Fort King St., Ocala.
The events have been organized and sponsored by the Friends of Marion County’s Veterans Park along with community sponsors Hospice of Marion County and Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services.
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Friends of Marion County’s Veterans Park Chairman Ron Oppinger said the events will be backdropped by the 9/11 Remembrance Wall and multiple displays, including images of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
“Remember the Fallen,” a traveling photographic exhibit based in Omaha, Nebraska, which includes photos of members of the military from each state who have fallen in the Global War on Terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, will also be on display from Friday, Sept. 17, through the closing ceremony, Oppinger stated.
Kristen Keene: A local woman who lost her husband on 9/11
Kristen Keene – widow of Leo Russell “Russ” Keene III, 33, a young father and upcoming stock analyst who died on Sept. 11, 2001, when Tower Two of the World Trade Center collapsed – will speak when 9/11 survivors share their stories on Sept. 17 starting at 4 p.m.
Kristen (Ott) Keene, 50, a 1988 Lake Weir High School graduate, met her future husband through a friend in 1994.
He was working at SouthTrust Bank here and she was an insurance customer service representative when they went to a candlelight dinner at a local restaurant.
“Russ was sweet and kind. He kept a journal and he marked in it ‘first date with Kristen, September 8 (1994),'” Kristen Keene said.
She said her husband-to-be, a native of Louisiana, had lived with his family for a time in Key West before moving to Ocala. He loved water sports and practiced some taekwondo as a youth.
Russ Keene surprised Kristen with a moonlight marriage proposal on a dock on Lake Weir and the couple married six months later at Spanish Springs in The Villages. The wedding was on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1995, a nod to Russ Keene’s Irish ancestry.
The couple soon moved to Atlanta, where Russ Keene worked at his uncle’s business, Allwaste, to gain management experience “with his eye on Wall Street.”
By 1996, the Keenes moved to New Jersey after Russ Keene joined a team of analysts in New York headed up by Dean Eberling, 43.
After working with at least one other firm, the team joined Keefe, Bruyette and Woods and Russ Keene worked with the rising trend of e-trade stock companies.
The Keenes were living in Westfield, New Jersey, where Russ Keene often used a four-wheel ATV to help clear snow from his neighbors’ homes.
Kristen Keene handled the daily household responsibilities while Russ Keene worked tirelessly at his job.
In October 1999 their daughter Mazalee, now 21, was born.
“He loved his baby girl,” Kristen Keene said.
By September 2001, the office Russ Keene’s team worked out of was on floor 89 of World Trade Center Tower Two.
“To me the building was always an omen. It was bombed in 1993 and as a symbol of America it was a target,” Kristen Keene said.
The day of the attacks, Kristen Keene said, her husband “kissed her on the cheek” and took the 40-minute train ride to work.
Just after the plane struck Tower One, he called Kristen.
“‘Turn on the television and tell me what you see,’ he told me,” she recalled.
Russ Keene thought a person in a small plane had a heart attack and struck Tower One. “I told him, ‘Get out, get out,'” Kristen Keene said.
“His voice was shaking (and) I could hear the Port Authority on a speaker in the background saying to ‘go back to your offices’ but Russ and Dean headed to an elevator along with fellow team members and Lauren Smith and Linda Rothmund,” she said.
In moments, Kristen Keene said, she saw the second jet slam into Tower Two on her television while standing in her kitchen.
“I lost it. I didn’t know where he was. I felt lifeless,” she said.
She described the scene as “her on the floor crying, the baby crying and the dog moaning.”
She began making frantic calls to her family and Russ Keene’s family.
Dean Eberling’s wife, Amy, came and picked Kristen Keene up and the two watched television at the Eberling home in a nearby town. Soon, Tower Two collapsed.
“My soul knew he was gone but my mind didn’t accept it,” she said,
Kristen Keeene explained her husband and three coworkers had gotten into an elevator and the cables were severed. The car fell to an area between floors around the second floor when the emergency brake stopped the car.
Only the two women are known to have gotten out of the car before the Tower collapsed. The two men evidently helped the women escape, Kristen Keene said.
Russ Keene’s remains were located in the car in January 2002.
Kristen and Mazalee moved to Atlanta in 2002 and then to Ocala in 2007.
“Mazalee was traumatized when daddy didn’t come home,” she said.
Kristen Keene said she speaks out to honor her husband.
“I want to keep my husband’s memory alive and honor all the victims and first responders from 9/11. I’d like to see the country come together because we’re stronger united,” she said.
Keene said her husband was cremated and she has the ashes at her home. She praised the support from his former company.
Keeme currently operates “Russell Legacy Properties,” a property investment and home renovation company.
“Russ always wanted to have his own business and now he does. He also had a goal of retiring early and opening a bed and breakfast,” she said.
Keene said she has sought counseling after the 9/11 attacks and although she “relives it every day” she has learned to cope with her loss.
“Russ will always be here with me,” she said.
More events planned
Planned events for Sunday, Sept. 12 include a 10 a.m. First Responder’s Chaplains memorial service, a “September Remembrance” concert by the Kingdom of the Sun Concert Band at 3 p.m. and a recital by the Belleview High School Jazz Band at 6 p.m.
Visitors to the park can participate in an educational session Tuesday, Sept. 14, and a “Meet and Greet Hometown Heroes” on Wednesday, Sept. 15. Both events begin at 10 a.m.
Events continue Friday, Sept. 17 with a PTSD (Post Traumatic Distress Order) “talk and share” question-and-answer session at noon and POW/MIA Ceremony at 3 p.m.
At 4 p.m. survivors, including Kristen Keene, will share their experiences, and at 6 p.m. the Delta Rose Band will perform.
Saturday, Sept. 18 is set aside as a Veterans Appreciation Day. There will be a prayer service at 10 a.m. followed by an American Flag story and folding demonstration, “Four Seasons” concert, “Music by Barry” performance and screening of the movie “Taking Chance” at 7 p.m.
Events will wrap up Sunday, Sept. 19 with a First Responder’s Chaplains memorial service at 10 a.m. and Closing Ceremony at 1 p.m.
Blood drives scheduled
Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in partnership with OneBlood and LifeSouth, invites the public to commemorate the 9/11 victims with life saving blood donations at bloodmobiles that will be located at three Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints locations on Saturday, Sept. 18.
Donations can be made in Ocala at 1831 SE 18th Ave., from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Williston at 650 N. Main St. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Lecanto at 3474 W. Southern St. from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Blood donations can be made on Sept. 25 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Belleview at 12975 SE 55th Avenue Road 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Visit www.comeandservewithus.comfor additional information on the 9/11commemorative Blood Drive.
10 a.m.: The 9/11 Remembrance Wall will be escorted from War Horse Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop to the park for setup. Organizers expect 300 to 500 cyclists from various veterans-related groups and private riders.
Saturday, Sept. 11