A New Jersey couple recently reached out to Conger Elementary School to show their appreciation for a banner the school made nearly 20 years ago in support of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Conger Principal Mary Krell said Friday she was contacted recently by Maureen Sutterlin, 74, of Hamilton Square, New Jersey, who was looking for information about Conger. Krell said Sutterlin and her husband, Bill, 93, began volunteering at an assistance center in New Jersey after the Sept. 11 attacks, and one of the decorations hanging at the center was a banner made by then fourth grade students at Conger.
Krell said when the assistance center closed last year, Sutterlin reached out to the center and was allowed to take home the banner. Sutterlin said she felt a special attachment to the banner from Conger because of its message of “sending a hug.”
“It was so unique … the children’s pictures and their comments underneath and the whole idea of needing a hug,” Sutterlin said. “That’s the kind of thing I think the victims of 9/11 … they needed a hug. It was just so striking and well done, and I could tell the teachers who guided them to create it were creative people. It was important for me to get it back to (Conger) and allow everyone to see how it gave comfort to 9/11 victims.”
Krell said the story is a testament to the goodwill of the fourth graders at the time, and she hopes current students learn from their example.
“Although the kids might be small, they still have an important impact on the community and society around them,” Krell said. “Twenty years ago there were fourth graders in this building that took time to send a caring and thoughtful message all the way to New Jersey and to see how that impacted people over the last 20 years is pretty incredible. … Their words are so powerful and can encourage and give people hope.”
Sutterlin said she felt so welcomed when she spoke to Krell and other Conger staff this week.
“It was as if I had known her all my life,” Sutterlin said. “Looking at the project the children had created, that was the kind of warm response (I knew) I would get when I called the school. … It’s really been a joyful experience. I was so happy to get such a warm reception. I was just so happy that they were so excited.”
Sutterlin said if she could send a message to those fourth graders and teachers in 2001 she would thank them.
“Thank you for your sweet words, your beautiful smiles standing in front of that American flag,” Sutterlin said. “It was just so comforting. I hope someday I can meet you all. … It was important to me for the children to realize that you never know when one little thing, one act of kindness might help someone so much. They really might need that help. You don’t know what’s going on in their heart and in their lives, and one little thing you do might make a difference.”
Sutterlin said she plans to send the banner and photos back to the school in the near future.