A few years ago, I attended the college graduation of a friend, who in her mid-forties struggled alone to raise three daughters, manage her household, and earn an associate degree in business. A remark made by the Commencement speaker left a lasting impression on me. It was: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, we have today—the present, the gift.” I was reminded of that adage again this week when I visited with the wife and children of fireman Lt. Kenneth Phelan, who died in the World Trade Center Disaster on September 11, 2001.

Patricia (Patty) Horan and Kenneth (Kenny) Phelan met near the sprinklers in Juniper Valley Park in the early 80’s. According to Patty, it was a storybook romance. Kenny even proposed to her at that same location, after taking her to dinner at Bridie’s Restaurant on Woodhaven Blvd. They were married in 1983 at Our Lady of Hope Church in Middle Village. In attendance was a large crowd, mostly of Irish heritage, including their parents Dorothy and Henry Horan, and Kenneth and Helene Phelan. Kenneth joined the New York Fire Department and Patty became a third grade teacher at St. Sebastian’s on Roosevelt Ave. Their union was blessed with four beautiful children—Kimberly(Kim), Erin, Daniel(Danny), and Kenneth(Kenny Jr.) It was a tough job, parenting four children, but Kenny and Patty accepted the challenge with commitment and high energy. Skiing trips to Vermont, summers in Breezy Point, and spontaneous day trips to Great Adventure were family outings, which were enjoyed by all for many years. Then the 9/11 WTC disaster occurred, and Lt. Kenneth Phelan, from Firehouse #217 in Bedford Styvesant, Brooklyn, disappeared without a trace, in that history-changing event.


I asked Patty and her two boys, who were home when I visited, what this past year has been like for them. Patty responded, “it has been really rough, like being on a rollercoaster, but we are happy that we are here and able to manage on a day-to-day basis.” She said one of the hardest things for her and especially for the boys, is that thus far, they have not recovered any of his remains—”no body, no ring, no uniform.” Danny, who is now 12, said he misses his dad, especially when he prepares for his chess games. He is president of the chess club at Our Lady of Hope School, and he appreciated his father’s guidance before a game. He also remembers the night of September 10, when his dad brought home Kentucky Fried Chicken, but wouldn’t let the boys eat until the homework was done. Eight-year-old Kenny Jr., also a student at OLH, was less verbal, but fondly remembers his dad taking him for a haircut on the evening of Sept. 10. As part of a school assignment, a teacher asked, “Who would you put on a stamp, if you had a choice?” Kenny wrote: “Lt. Kenny Phelan: He is my dad. He saved many people. He loves being a fireman. Firemen are heroes.”

During this visit, I did not have an opportunity to speak with their two daughters, but Patty shared some information about each of them. Kim(18) is enrolled, as a Freshman communications major, at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. She purchased a car for her daily commute to the college, which is adjacent to the firehouse where her father began his career as a fireman. Erin(15) is now a Sophomore at St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows. She is an accomplished basketball player with the school’s team. She misses her dad’s coaching and mentoring. A poet at heart, she wrote the poem which appears in the sidebar, as part of her studies.


Patty and her family plan to continue “pulling together, as a unit” in facing the future. The children will continue their schooling and athletic activities, and she will continue her day-to-day parenting duties. She wants to stay close with her extended family, and her church community, and maintain strong bonds with Kenny’s firehouse family. By 2003, she feels that she will be ready to return to St. Sebastian’s, as a third grade teacher. I ask the Middle Village community to join me in wishing Patty, Kim, Erin, Danny, and Kenny Jr. the best that life has to offer. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, we have the present, which is a gift…