Locally made memorial bench going to New York

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 25, 2002

Somewhere in eastern Indiana, or maybe in western Ohio, is a metal bench which is slowly being moved from Minnesota and Iowa to its final destination at a fire station in New York City.

This green, six-foot bench originated in Albert Lea and Northwood, Iowa, and started off on its unusual journey to the east from the Owatonna Fire Department in March.

&uot;It may take six months to get to New York, but that’s OK as long as we can track it,&uot; said Bruce Thomas, an Owatonna fire fighter.

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The reason for the long travel time factor is based on the way this sturdy bench is being transported. It’s going from fire department to fire department on the route to a final New York City destination.

This bench concept came about as a joint project between Thomas and an Albert Lea firm named Designing With Connections Inc. Frank Nellis, Larry Struck and Milt Christensen, owners of this company, agreed with Thomas that something tangible should be created to honor and thank the New York firemen for their courageous actions on Sept. 11, 2001.

&uot;Those firemen risked their lives responding to the attack on the World Trade Center. They went in there in he line of duty. The guys that did the work need the recognition,&uot; Nellis said.

The Albert Lea business designs and constructs outdoor furniture, picnic tables, and children’s play items. The trio created this special bench with its heart motif in early March.

Selecting the green color was easy, according to Nellis. St. Patrick’s Day was coming up, and many of New York City’s firefighters are Irish-Americans.

After the bench was completed at the Albert Lea plant on Adams Avenue, it was taken to A.D.A. Enterprises in Northwood for its all-weather coating of rubber-like plasticol. Then the completed bench was taken to the Owatonna Fire Department on March 22, according to Thomas.

Finding a destination for the bench was no problem for Thomas after he contacted the Uniformed Fire Fighter Association in New York City.

They told him a proper place for the bench would be found at a fire station somewhere in the metropolitan New York area.

Thomas said he attached a Tupperware box to the bench with the address of its final destination, plus his e-mail address and telephone number. Thus, he can trace the progress of the bench as it moves from the Midwest to New York.

The Owatonna firefighter said the box is intended for memorabilia and thank you letters from each department helping to move the bench along to its final destination.

&uot;So far I understand the box has T-shirts, badges and news items in it,&uot; Thomas said.

About the end of March Thomas took the bench to Rochester. From there it was taken to Winona and on to La Crosse. Wis., Then the bench went past Madison, Wis., and the Chicago metropolitan area with a delegation of La Crosse firefighters going to a convention in Indianapolis, Ind.

&uot;I actually lost track of it for a while,&uot; Thomas said.

Somehow, the bench ended up in Peoria, Ill., for a short time. Thomas said an e-mail message on May 14 indicated the green bench was again on its way to the destination in the East.

&uot;The Winchester, Ind., Fire Department got it from Muncie (Ind.) and they will be taking it to Richmond, Ind.,&uot; he explained.

Hopefully, by Sept. 11, and the first anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center towers, the bench intended as a memorial from an Albert Lea firm and the Owatonna Fire Department will find a permanent place in front of a New York City fire station.

And to help folks in New York know where the green bench originated and its real purpose, a small plaque on it says, &uot;We will never forget 9-11, 2001,&uot; and the name of Designing With Connections Inc. of Albert Lea as the contributors.