9/11 Reflections - ‘Keeping our son’s memory alive and helping people in need brings joy to my heart’
There’s been an empty chair at the Sugra family’s table since Sept. 11, 2001.
Nothing can erase that heartbreaking pain, but though there is an empty space at the table, Bill – often called Billy – will always have a very special place in the hearts of his family members, who cherish the chance to keep his memory alive.
“There’s something missing – he’s missing,” said Billy’s mother, El Sugra.
Billy Sugra lost his life at age 30 while working in the World Trade Center the day of the terrorist attacks.
Billy’s family includes parents Bill Sr. and El Sugra of Salisbury Township, sister Tracy Sell, her husband Steve and their children Reagan, age 11 and Tripp, age 10.
“Once I set nine places for dinner, and we only needed eight. I set a place for Billy without thinking,” El said, recalling a simple everyday activity that shines a light on his absence.
While she loves that many of her son’s friends are still in their lives, it does make her think of what his life would be like now, and everything he missed having in his life.
“We miss Bill. Moments come and creep into your mind and you’re sad,” said Bill Sr. “We’ll always miss him, but we can’t bring him back. We knew that from day one. So we go on. It’s about how we live our lives after that, not focusing on the past, but remembering it for sure.”
Part of that remembrance is the Bill Sugra Memorial Fund for Needy and Disadvantaged Peoples, launched by Bill Sr., El and Tracy immediately after 9/11. The annual Bill Sugra Memorial Golf Outing at Green Pond Country Club, Bethlehem Township, has been the cornerstone of fundraising for the fund. Golfers teed off for the 20th and final year Aug. 27, though the fund will continue after the golf outing has ended.
“I think, what would Billy be doing now? I think of Reagan and Tripp and how he would have loved them,” El said.
The family has done its best to let Reagan and Tripp know about their uncle. As part of that, the family took them to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York in July 2017.
“The trip was an opportunity to gently explain to them what had happened and why we do all this,” Bill Sr. said.
“Tracy took the kids into a room at the museum that has a pictorial timeline of that day,” El said.
“We didn’t go in. We don’t need to see that day again,” her husband added.
Visiting that room helped the kids learn about that tragic day. When Tripp came out he told his grandmother, “Don’t go in. It’s just so sad.”
“You never get over it. We miss him more over time,” El said.
Sometimes memories of 9/11 reach out and touch their lives. in unexpected ways, such as when Bill Sr. and El were attending a softball game a number of years ago at Patriot Park in Allentown.
When they spotted a man there wearing a 9/11 shirt, El darted over to speak with him. The man was Paul Geidel, an FDNY firefighter who had come to the game with some motorcycle friends. He was a member of New York City Fire Department Rescue Company 1, also known as Rescue 1.
Geidel had a son who was a firefighter with Rescue 1 who responded on 9/11 and was killed in the towers; another son is still a firefighter with Rescue 1.
The couple kept in touch with Geidel over the years, and though he has since passed away, they did meet his son during a visit to Rescue 1, which Bill Sr. described as a “neat experience.”
Organizing the annual golf outing has been a “labor of love.
“It’s a long, rigorous day, but a joyous day,” Bill Sr. said. They described the golfers and volunteers – the majority of whom return year after year – as “like a family.”
“We’ve made so many wonderful friends – we’ll miss seeing them,” El said.
“Keeping our son’s memory alive and helping people in need brings joy to my heart,” El Sugra said.
Yet, after 20 years, it was the right time in their lives to bring the golf outing to an end. In those two decades, the fund raised $1,011, 902 – “Making a Million Dollar Difference” – as the family describes it, to help those in need.
“The million dollar mark became the goal when it became achievable four or five years ago. I feel good about that,” Bill Sr. said. “Prior to 9/11, I didn’t know a lot about the local nonprofits or how much need there is in this area.”
“People thought we’d stop after our 10th year, but we had no plan. We just did one year after the other,” El said.
This year, the golf outing wrapped up with a dinner, as usual. El said her husband gave a “beautiful talk,” and Msgr. John Murphy, retired pastor of their parish, St. Thomas More, Allentown, offered a “beautiful prayer.
“I was listening to Bill’s talk and crying. Tracy told me Tripp put his head down on the table and was sobbing. It touched my heart,” El said.
The Sugras were touched and honored that the Whitehall Police Honor Guard performed at this year’s golf outing. Whitehall Police Lt. Greg Bealer, a member of the guard, was Bill Sugra’s roommate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). The 2018 golf outing marked the guard’s first performance anywhere.
The family was also moved that Sing for America/The Gilbert Family of Palmer Township again performed The National Anthem and a few other patriotic selections at the event. They were especially grateful because Tasia, one of the performing siblings, was getting married the next day, but they wanted to be there, especially for the final golf outing. “They’re a fabulous family,” El said.
“It’s been a wonderful 20 years,” said Bill Sr. about the golf outing. “I don’t know what the future holds. Next year will be very odd. We may do a little traveling, especially to visit my brother in Texas.
“We will keep the memorial fund and intend to give something away each year in memory of Bill, though it will be a lesser amount because we don’t have the fundraiser,” Bill Sr. said.
“Billy’s sure to help,” El added, musing Billy will help them navigate the future of the fund, the same way he “takes care of the weather” for the golf outing, which has never been rained out in two decades.
“I think Billy would be very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” El said. “He was a humble guy who never boasted, but I think he’d be very proud of what his mom, dad and sister have done in his name.”
Contributions can be made at billsugramemorialfund.com/.