WESTERVILLE — When considering things to be thankful for this week, spare a thought for the first responders who are working while you’re taking the holiday off.
There’s a place nearby that honors those heroes. On Nov. 14, the City of Westerville rededicated the newly renovated First Responders Park, 374 W. Main St. Attendees had the opportunity to take home a special luminary honoring local first responders at that ceremony.
First opened in 2010 next to a fire station, the park was notable for having a section of steel called C-40 from the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City that was struck by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Then in 2011, a privately-funded sculpture of Firefighter Dave Theisen called “The Crossing” was placed in the park. Theisen, from Westerville, died fighting a fire in Crooksville in 1998.
The park has been the site of ceremonies every Sept. 11, but there is a lot of road noise when they take place. The city planned to expand the park to be more inclusive of all types of first responders.
“The cost of the $1.2 million project was vastly offset by generous donations,” states Westerville’s website. There was $500,000 from the state of Ohio; $464,000 from businesses and community members, plus $173,000 in-kind donations. The firms POD Design and McGill Smith Punshon lent their services free of charge.
“The park now features a quieter space for reflection, a memorial wall for our fallen heroes and markers for all first responders along with the existing elements of the park,” the city’s website states. “The water portion of the memorial wall has been winterized, but will return when the weather is consistently warm in the spring.”
The exterior walls wrap around the park, yet don’t fully enclose it. There’s a marker inside that shows where the C-40 section was in the WTC; and there’s an eternal flame along the interior wall.
The interior wall of the park has the names of three Westerville first responders who died in the line of duty: Theisen; and police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering. The latter two were shot last February responding to a domestic dispute call in Westerville in a tragedy that made national headlines. In recent weeks, the person who was found guilty of their murder was sentenced to two life terms in prison.
During a recent visit, there was a rose next to each person’s name, and the area was illuminated at night.
In other news, Westerville City Council passed a non-discrimination ordinance Nov. 19 guaranteeing equal rights for all. The expansion of the Community Center continues, slated for completion in 2020. Finally, an expanded Holiday Celebration and tree-lighting ceremony takes place uptown from 5-9 p.m. Dec. 6.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.