I think Covid-19 will make us stronger… in more ways than one.

Before I share my opinion on this highly political and sometimes controversial topic- allow me to try to diffuse the most heartbreaking: this virus has caused deaths. For those who have experienced this with family or close friends, please accept my condolences. I’ve experienced losing a loved one recently and it hurts. My thoughts aren’t meant to take away from that.

On the larger scale, however, I’m beginning to believe that this virus will ultimately make us all better, if we let it.

First- a personal note- I had “the virus” back in August. it was more of a head battle than a heart, lung or any other organ battle. By that I mean when I received the impersonal text that I had tested positive, I almost immediately began to feel like my breathing had become constricted. “Is this it”, I thought? As it turned out, the flu I had at Christmas of last year was exponentially worse than the -19 turned out to be. The one thing that helped the most, it seemed, was rest, rest, rest.

Jump to Sunday, 22 November, and I’d like to share that last week I had a sinus infection. I went to see the experts at ExpressCare in Cornelia and they confirmed that it was “probably” a virus- induced sinus infection (not covid-19) and the best I could do was minimize the symptoms and ride it out, hopefully for 5-7 days. Understood, I thought, I’ve heard that before.

As I’ve gotten “older” (I don’t think 54 is THAT old) I have noticed that sinus infections have taken longer to recover from. For me, they have typically started as a tickle in the throat, progressed to my sinuses and ended up in my chest. Typically my experience has been two weeks, and sometimes longer, for a complete recovery.

But… in what seems to be a post covid-19 (for me) recovery miracle, I’m typing this post, 5 days after my trip to ExpressCare, while riding on the stationary bicycle at the gym! I actually read a post in the New York Times (not often that I quote the NYT) that after recovering from the virus, immune systems may become smarter and more immune to Covid-19, as well as other maladies rather than less. You can read the article here.

So… I’m no scientist, but that’s my personal experience. I think hope it’s symbolic, too! I truly believe that we CAN benefit from the experience of this covid-19 experience. I believe everything happens for a reason, even this. How we handle it from here is up to us. Let’s make the most of every day and get stronger as a result!

Instead of flowers…

Our family has been truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, kind remarks and heart warming stories in the loss of my Dad. We knew he covered a lot of territory. Apparently we really didn’t have any idea. Thank you all for sharing your love for him and for us. Thank you for also sharing the many stories about him. Please keep them coming!

We’re finalizing arrangements for my Dad’s funeral. Unfortunately the ceremony will consist of only a graveside service. Immediate family will only be able to attend. We’ll plan a more appreciate Memorial at a later date when the situation allows.

The graveside ceremony is scheduled for this Thursday at 1 o’clock. We’re working on a way to live stream the ceremony, as well. I’ll send a link as soon as we finalize a way to live stream the ceremony.

Like many other projects Dad was involved in, Dad had begun helping revitalize the Demorest Woman’s Club. He had helped Re-authorize a tax exempt status, among many other things.

The Demorest Woman’s Club building is also in need of revitalization. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and needs attention. He would have loved the thought of a community coming together to help restore the building itself.

Here is a link to a GofundMe page that my Brother-in-Law just created.

Demorest Woman’s Club GofundMe

Any donation you can make will be tax deductible and this, I know, would have made him very happy. If you would also take a second to share the GofundMe page with friends and family and ask them to donate, too, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you again for your love and kindness. We know that God is good and that Dad is resting easy in the presence of Jesus.

I’ll miss him, a lot.

James Newby Butterworth
Feb 3rd, 1943- Mar 28th, 2020

My Dad went to heaven today. He has been my compass to navigate life with. I always turned to him first for advice and, I suppose, I always thought he’d be available when I needed him. Apparently Jesus needed him in Heaven a little more.

He was only 77.

James Newby Butterworth was born in 1943 in Marietta, Georgia. He grew up in a loving family, had an older brother that he admired greatly, and lived life to the fullest. He will be remembered for being a Renaissance Man and every bit a “throwback” to a time when right was just right and wrong wasn’t debated but simply known to be wrong. In many ways, he couldn’t understand American Society in 2020.

Most people will remember him wearing a suit. A good suit was his shield and sword. You would rarely see him without his shirt tucked in. He had short pants but they were for the beach. He worked out in khakis. He was a true believer of the saying “When you work, work hard but when you play, play hard, too”.

If I ever wanted to brag about my family (which I do a lot), he was my go to. He always responded with the meaningful and kind comments you’d expect from a proud Daddy and grandfather.

It wasn’t unusual for Dad to take off, at a moments notice, with his wife Rhonda, for a long weekend at the beach. They would eagerly go to a South Carolina shag dance beach club called Fat Harold’s. He wore t-shirts from Fat Harold’s proudly.

If you needed a recommendation on a good book, he’d have one. He preferred paperback. I bought him a kindle but he still liked paper, he said. Music choices? Vast but never complicated. Cars? Yes, he has quite a few, from his precious 1951 Chevy pickup, a 1960 Willy’s Overland Wagon, to a hot rod Chevy Deluxe, just to name a few. He preferred his old Woody station wagon, though. It has stickers from Fat Harold’s on the back. He claimed the car has a corvette engine in it. He definitely drove it like it did.

My Dad’s “Hideout”

He always mailed a card on my birthday. His Momma taught him to do that and he would never have wanted to disappoint her.

At Christmas time he bought dozens of caramel cakes from Cecilia’s Bakery in Athens. He’d stack them three deep on layers of styrofoam in the back of the station wagon. He’d then drive all over north Georgia making deliveries. He loved doing it.

He and I talked a lot. Daily via text and on the phone as much as we could. We both stayed busier than we should have but we would regularly take an intentional time out for lunch or maybe a quick 9 holes of golf. He preferred 9 holes. 18 just took too long, he said.

He put a pool in behind his house many years ago. Occasionally he liked to skinny dip in it and advised me that I should always call before I just showed up. He told the story of one particular dip in the pool when, in the midst of swimming a few laps, his lawn keeper showed up. He finished his laps, climbed out of the pool in his birthday suit, and waved at the lawn guy as he cruised back into the house. He laughed about that story a lot.

My Dad was a fairly private person. He kept his heart challenges to a limited few for over a year. The issue with his heart was a thing called “”Afib”. You can google it. He knew everything a person could know about it, but he didn’t want to talk about it. It happened occasionally and he had come to know what to do to correct it. Except this time, I suppose. It truly frustrated him that it would occur. He had a lot of people to see and too many things to do. He just didn’t have time for an irregular heartbeat.

In my Dad’s passing, my family, and this world, has lost a Lion. He was fair but opinionated. He was impartial but educated. When you disagreed with him you always came away wondering why you had chosen the wrong side. He was what this world needed and, as cliche as it sounds, this world is worse off without him.

The one thing that Dad came to love and protect more than anything was family. He and my Mom divorced many years ago. My parents didn’t talk much in his latter years but he’d ask me about my Mom every now and then. I know he still loved her, in spite of what happened between them. My Dad couldn’t “unlove” anyone. It just wasn’t in his chemistry. As my Mom said yesterday, “we spent a lot of life together and we raised two amazing kids.” Yes ma’am, I agree.

Family was critically important to my Dad. He loved his grandchildren immensely and never missed an opportunity to make an impact on their lives or give them a word of advice. We will all miss that advice dearly.

So, like many others have said, love on your family. You don’t know when a goodbye will be the last. I’ve read and heard those words many times before but they now mean so much more to me today. I’ve turned around more than once in the last few days, expecting my Dad to be standing beside me, asking me, “How you doin’ Ol Boy?” I wasn’t ready for this, but my Dad was. As I told someone else- he didn’t want to go, but he was always ready, just in case.

To that end- I don’t question God’s timing. It’s always perfect. I know Dad is teaching some dance lessons in heaven and Jesus also has a really good Judge, Advocate and Mediator, just in case he needs some backup.

I love you, Dad. We’ll miss you. Every day. And by the way, we’ll be at the beach this summer. I think we’ll stay two weeks this year, just like we’ve talked about doing for way too long. I have a lot of wonderful memories I need to help create, just like you did. Love you. I miss you already. A lot.

Life, Lessons and Old Farmhouses

People are interesting.

There are good people, the ones who will walk through fire for you (and you for them), there are bad people and there are those who you thought you knew to be better people.

You’ve probably known the kind… they start out strong, they call you “friend” somewhere along the way and they work with you toward common goals. Goals like restoring an old farmhouse.

Before you know it, you’re knee deep in time and money, right there with that friend who is all about helping, albeit at a price, of course.

In my case, it’s a labor of love, and friends who want to help are welcome.

Amy and I are restoring an old farmhouse that has been in my family for generations. It’s one of the last bastions of “homestead” that connects me with my youth. Call it a weakness, I suppose.

The memories, both good and some not so, are there forever. I prefer the good and that’s why we decided to try to put a smile back on her face and help extend her life and value.

When we started on the project, back in March of this year, the house was overgrown by weeds and brush. It was an undertaking, but we were all in. Sweat equity and child labor are things we believe strongly in.

Over the last number of months Amy, our kids and I have filled more than a dozen bags with bottles and cans and hauled them out of the woods, bush hogged and chain sawed privet hedges that have turned into trees, killed termites, hauled rotten wood and a rat infested stove to the dump, burned brush and slowly begun the process of giving back a “Painted Lady” the sense of pride she had when she was first built back in 1927.

We quickly realized that we desperately needed restoration assistance. Along the way we added a mule train driver, of sorts, for the journey. He seemed like just what we needed to get us where we wanted to be. I’ll call him Les. Not his real name, but appropriate.

Les fancies himself a craftsman. He brought a team of laborers who, according to Les, always needed “adult supervision” or else they might not get the job right.

After a strong start on demo there were days that Les and the crew might not show up, of course they had other obligations. Understood… see you next week, I said.

There were other days that the team cleaned up paint brushes or “blew the hoses” around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, only to leave shortly thereafter. It is hunting season, after all. As a matter of fact, Les was welcomed to hunt on our hilltop, right next to the Painted Lady. He’s a bow hunter so the intrusion was minimal. He also borrowed a car of mine so he could travel comfortably and hunt in South Georgia over a long weekend. “Mi Casa es su Casa”, as they say. After all, that’s just what friends do, right?

As time marched on, there were weeks that only two of the four members of the team would show, and work would continue, albeit limited in scope.

Les and I shook hands on a completion date, in some useable form, of Amy’s birthday, so we could celebrate there on the hilltop. That was back in July. We missed that deadline.

As the months ticked by the needed payment amounts increased (the jingle, as Les likes to call it). Work seemed to slow but the payments didn’t.

Several months ago Les had given me a rough idea of cost to completion, and that number was looming. Thanksgiving was, too, which was the next date for a celebratory completion meal to be had, on the hilltop. Les and I were determined not to let that date pass.

Upon closer scrutiny, I began to realize that, of all the various projects Les and the crew had begun (and there are many), literally not one had been brought to completion.

The end of the story is just as you would expect. Les and I have parted ways. As I told him, I’ll sleep just fine for my part of our agreement. Les was paid in full and has now cashed the final check I gave him. The painted lady is better than she was, and for that I’m happy.

Les played me better than most though, and we still have a ways to go to get the house completed.

We still need plumbing, tile work, oh, and a useable toilet would be nice. Ofcourse Les promised that a while back but other projects just got in the way. We’ll also need some electrical work, lighting and paint because that’s not quite finished, either.

Regardless, our painted lady will smile again soon. Amy and I are committed to completing the task. For family, for friends, especially the real ones, and for future generations not yet known. There will soon be (more) smiles and laughter on our hilltop, and lots of it, too.

We look forward to getting it done. We’ll find another mule train driver and I’ll do my best to know that he’s committed to helping us complete our journey. If he wants to call me friend, I’ll do my best to cautiously remember the lesson Les taught me. Regardless, the next guy will be welcomed as a friend, too, I’m sure. It takes more than some jingle out of my pocket to change me from the person I am.

When we finish, I’m sure it will feel like a major life victory. I look forward to the day.

When it’s done, you’re invited to drop by, or sooner, if you like. If you come by soon, you might want to bring a hammer, a roll of TP and maybe some pocket warmers, too. It’s a little cool inside at the moment. Regardless, we’d love for you to visit.

You’ll always be welcome, too, Les. That’s just how we treat friends on our hilltop.

Happy Thanksgiving. 🍁

On Disney, Easter love and the Breakthrough Movie

So a Disney trip is in the books. Amy and I took our two youngest kids to Orlando for the requisite kids trip. After a lot of walking, and a few “discussions” about good food choices, we’ve finished our trek.

Disney- Mission Accomplished.

It’s absolutely incredible how much ground you cover on a trip like this. I have a Garmin watch and it tracked steps and mileage. It may or may not be totally accurate, but here’s what it showed for 3 days of our visit:

Now… in full disclosure, it rained on day 3. Regardless, according to Garmin, we covered over 20 miles!

Couple of observations- upon realization that a 9 and 11 year old were right there with us, every step of the way, I was increasingly impressed with their resiliency. Kids these days.

Also- a lot of people rent those electric carts at Disney, and they probably don’t really need to. Further- they take them every where in the park. Literally.

I couldn’t help but think “get up”. It reminded me of the movie “Wall-E” and how people only ride in electric chairs with accompanying movie screens. Have you seen it?

It’s a 2008 Disney Pixar film, btw.

Now that’s not to say that some folks might need a little help getting around, but others?

That’s just an observation. I do think we’re a lot further down the path that the Wall-E movie tried to warn us about, though.

Disney is an amazing place and the result of some incredible vision by Walt. He passed away in December of 1966. His “World” didn’t open until 1971.

I couldn’t help but ponder how proud Walt would probably be of his almost 50 year old creation.

I imagine he’d be pleased with most of his legacy.

As a consumer, I would probably offer to Walt that they sure could tone down the profit-taking.

I know it’s not a news flash, but Disney has “taking your money” down to a true science. I found myself giddy on the few occasions that I would beat them at their own game. Regardless, no one goes on a Disney trip to see how much money they can save. You know what you’re in for when you sign up. Occasionally, though, it seemed that the profit margin was as important as ensuring that the guest’s experience is even close to magical.

Another observation- the employees seemed to be committed to their job, but not really committed to making their guest’s experience “magical”.

That was related to me by more than employee. One young lady who claimed she was on “intern” status also confessed that the term was actually just Disney’s way of not paying for college student labor. Interesting… and probably not just a Disney dilemma.

One highlight of my trip was a “spin” on the Flowrider. If you haven’t been on one, you should try it.

I tried the Flowrider, too. I had more success at flipping on the boogie board than standing. The video of me trying to surf was pretty hilarious. I’ll save it for some other blog post… maybe.

It’s worth noting that the other kids waiting in line for the Flowrider were atleast 40 years younger than me.

Regardless of the rides, attractions and distractions, a Disney vacation forces a “time out” from life. It helps us remember that our family is special and their love is irreplaceable. Life in 2019, it seems, tends to steal some of that realization from us. I think, ultimately, that’s the kind of magic that Walt truly wanted to perpetuate.

I’m going to do my best to take some of that home, Walt. Thanks for the Mickey Mouse t-shirt and for the Pre-Easter vacation.

I mentioned that it rained a little but on one of our days in Florida. It wasn’t a total rain-out but we did take some time to go watch the movie Breakthrough. I recommend it, btw.

Here’s a link to the movie trailer…

The movie, based on a true story, is about a young man who falls through some ice on a frozen lake. He’s underwater for an extended period of time and ends up in an ICU, without much worldly hope.

Through God’s grace (spoiler alert) and a mother’s intercessory prayer, God works a miracle and saves his life. It’s an amazing movie. Amy and I highly recommend it.

Breakthrough isn’t a Disney movie and unfortunately Disney doesn’t know much about telling stories about God’s love, but that doesn’t seem to slow movies like this down. I love seeing these amazing stories being told on the big screen. Disney should get on board.

Breakthrough– Talk about magical! God’s love never fails!

Happy Easter!

Moving on…

They say you can never delete things from the internet. Regardless, I just did.

As you may have heard, we had a little election here in north Georgia. To say it got heated is an understatement. It never needed to be but that’s beside the point. My family and I picked a candidate. The man we voted for and supported has now won. He won by a fairly decent margin, I might add. I’ve already seen one media outlet call it a “landslide”.

You may have seen some of my previous comments here. As a result of telling the truth and speaking my mind I’ve had to unnecessarily defend my reputation, too. All as a result of doing what I saw as “the right thing”. It happens.

But, that was yesterday. Election Day is over and it’s time to move forward.

To that end, I’ve deleted my posts regarding the former State Rep. and this election from my site. Not out of a lack of belief that it was the right and proper thing to do at the time, but out of a genuine interest in living the Golden Rule. Kind of a “that was then, this is now” sort of thing.

That having been said, the defeated candidate will probably still have untruths posted about me somewhere on the internet. That doesn’t really matter to me, though. What matters to me is doing my best, being honest and then moving on to better things, better stories and better days.

As we say in the flying business when a procedure is completed: “Check”.

So… if you voted in this election, thanks, regardless of who you voted for. Personally, I believe the best man won. I’m in good company, too because that guy received 75% of the vote. Now, the best man can finally get to work.

Let’s clean up the confetti and move on. There’s a lot of good life to live here in the 28th District! Have a great day!

High Flight

With all of the hits my website seems to be getting these days, I decided to do a shift…

As a USAF ROTC cadet at the University of Georgia, we were required to learn a poem called “High Flight”. It was written by John Gillespie Magee, jr.

At the time, I knew nothing about Magee, and didn’t really hold much credence for his poem, either. All I knew was that I had to be able to recite it, start to finish, on command. I did, and I can still repeat every word to this very day. Difference is, after 35 years of flying airplanes, the words have quite a bit more meaning to me now.

It turns out that Magee was the son of missionaries and was born in China. He grew up in England and joined the Royal Air Force at the beginning of WWII. He was a fighter pilot and knew the true glory of flight. He died in combat in December of 1941.

These are the words of his poem, High Flight:

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.

Hov’ring there I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

I didn’t know why I needed to memorize that poem back in 1984. I now know that there are times that I appreciate the words more than I could have ever dreamt.

Most people don’t know the glory of flight. No offense to those of you that don’t… but sometimes I feel like that explains a lot.


21 Pounds and Counting…

Several weeks ago I noticed that a good friend of mine looked like he was losing weight. I asked him how he had done it and his response was something generic. He quickly added that he felt great and he would tell me about it sometime.

I saw him again a few days later and asked again. I told him that I could afford to lose a few pounds, too, (I was at 238) and that I’d love to know what he was doing. This time he responded that the program was called “Optavia” and he would be glad to sit down and tell me about it.

As it turns out, Optavia has been helping people create “Healthy Habits” for a long time. The leadership of the program comes from Board certified physicians and dieticians, including Johns Hopkins University Docs.

Not being one to do much of anything halfway, I was all in from day one.

I’ll quickly add that’s it’s been a very good journey from the beginning. I’ve lost 21 pounds in 5 weeks (not kidding) and I have atleast 7 more pounds to go. I’m wearing size 34 pants and have dropped off all of my 36 and 38 size pants at our local Goodwill. That’s a great feeling, by the way!

I’m currently at 217. I haven’t had a size 34 waist or been below 220 since I was a Captain in the USAF (and that was a long time ago).

I have been so impressed with how well Optavia has worked for me that I’ve now signed up to be an Optavia “Coach”.

Nobody really wants to hear about somebody else’s diet, so I’ll just leave it at that. I’m having a blast while getting more healthy, though. If you think you might want to give it a shot, check out my Optavia Coach’s page and let me know if I can help!

Happy springtime!

Calling Old Friends on Patriots Day… and Remembering

… I thought it might be nice to do a re-post on a blog entry I did at this time last year… Enjoy… and Never Forget.

I called Lee Ielpi today, just like I’ve done for the better part of a decade. I can’t really remember how I first met Lee… but his story is one you’ll never forget.

Lee Ielpi is a quiet hero. He knows heartache and tragedy better than most. He’s witnessed the unimaginable with his own eyes.

Through it all he has helped maintain the real and relevant part of the 9/11 story while also remaining one of the most solid and squared away individuals I know.

If you happened to be in the area of southern Manhattan today, chances are you’d make it a point to visit the 9/11 Memorial. Some call it “Ground Zero”. The Memorial does an incredible, albeit sobering, job of telling what happened at 1 World Trade Center on that day.

The Memorial is as much a museum as it is a Memorial. As you descend under the rebuilt streets of Manhattan you’re gradually surrounded by the sights, sounds and even smells of our generation’s day that will live in infamy.

You begin to hear the voices of firefighters calling for more support equipment. You hear New York Police Department officers requesting backup and emergency equipment. Knowing the final result, you begin to ponder how strong their commitment was to their mission.

You consider how heartbroken they must have been when their initial efforts to save lives and property would seem to have been in vain… for whatever period of time that realization may have been.

As you delve further into the Memorial, you witness some of the scenes and voices of tragedy as people, innocent victims, in the Twin Towers begin to realize their fate.

In and amongst the voices are steel beams that appear to have been twisted like spaghetti as the building fell. There are fire trucks, crushed almost beyond recognition, which were left abandoned by teams of lifesavers who were never able to return to the place where the trucks were parked.

If you’re like me, when you visit the 9/11 Memorial, it’s about that point in the “tour” that you begin to remind yourself that this was an event which occurred a long time ago. It becomes a little too overwhelming and you want to remind yourself you can walk away. You remember, almost like waking up from a bad dream, that the scenes you’re seeing and voices you’re hearing are from a bygone era, envisioned and enacted by very evil individuals.

You remember that you’ll walk out the door of the Memorial in a few minutes, probably with a tear in your eye, hopefully into a glorious Manhattan afternoon… and you may even begin to ponder where your evening meal might be.

You’d remind yourself of your Freedom.

For Lee Ielpi, and many others like him, the nightmare of 9/11 can’t be left behind by simply walking out the doors of the Memorial, however.

Jonathan Ielpi was in the middle of a shift on the morning of 9/11/2001. He was a Firefighter in Squad 288 of the FDNY Special Operations Command located in Queens, NY. Major incidents and Hazardous Material events were their specialty. Jonathan and Squad 288 were the tip of the spear for the FDNY and people of NYC.

From l. to r.: Brendan Ielpi, Lee Ielpi, Jonathan Ielpi and Jonathan’s two boys Andrew (in front) and Austin (held by Jonathan).

Chances are Jonathan heard the Boeing 757 come in low over southern Manhattan, as most everyone in New York City did that day.

When the call came in to Squad 288 the report was that a twin engine aircraft had flown into the World Trade Center. Jonathan suited up. He and his team knew there was work to be done.

I’m sure the scene, on that crisp and clear September morning, looking up at the Twin Towers, must have been more than Jonathan could fathom. Regardless, Squad 288 launched into action without hesitation and hurled themselves into the melee before them.

Then, at 9:59, the South tower fell.

We can only speculate if any of the team members had any idea of the magnitude of the situation. There are survivors who can tell the story, but a total of 9 lives were lost on 9/11 from Squad 288 alone.

No one could have imagined the towers would actually fall. The unimaginable day just got inifinitely worse.

If you’ve seen any of the videos of the aftermath of the towers falling, you’ve experienced some part of the deafening silence that enveloped the area afterwards. You may have also noticed the continuous chirps that sounded from beyond the haze and remnants of paper that swirled in the air.

Each of those chirps was a firefighter’s alarm that automatically goes off when the firefighter doesn’t move for a brief period of time. One of those chirps was the alarm that had been connected to Jonathan’s tank and equipment.

Lee Ielpi, who was in the waning years of his firefighting service on September 11th, rolled onto the scene, in a support role, about 30 minutes after the second tower had fallen.

It was no longer his job to drag hose and don the turnout gear. Those jobs were for the kids in the service. The kids like his son Jonathan.

As any Dad would do, and as the reality of the situation began to set in, Lee began to wonder about Jonathan’s location. Ofcourse it wasn’t a time to lose focus on the task at hand, but Lee began to worry. As a result of his years of experience, he quickly realized that things may quickly get untenable.

Only moments later he was told Jonathan was gone.

When you meet Lee Ielpi today, he’s a face of peace and contentment. When I spoke to him today, he thanked me for the call. We asked each other about family and shared a tear for loved ones gone home.

He reminded me that he was now a Florida resident and that I needed to come visit. And, as he always does, he invited me to come to The 9/11 Tribute Center sometime soon.

The Tribute Center is across the street from the 9/11 Memorial. It’s a private effort and is supported by selfless giving. The Tribute Center is Lee’s tribute to his fallen son, and many other families who have stories similar to the Ielpi family’s.

As we chatted, Lee mentioned, with a smile “in his voice” that the Center had recently expanded to over 3 times its original size. He said they had officially changed the name and now referred to it as a museum.

You can find out more about Lee Ielpi’s vision which became a reality here.

As was Lee’s vision, many years ago, on any given day, in and amongst the throngs of people venturing into the 9/11 Memorial, you can find the Tribute Center open, eagerly welcoming visitors to come in and hear “the rest of the story” firsthand.

The Tribute Center does not employ many people. Most of the people you find there are volunteers. They’re not just any volunteers, either. At Lee’s behest, if you want to volunteer there, you must have had some direct impact to you or your Family on 9/11. You’ll only find family members or First Responders there volunteering. They help to finish telling the story of what happened, to them, on September 11, 2001.

The Mission of the Tribute Center is to honor and remember the lives lost on that day. No one can help us remember better than those who felt it, saw it and were impacted by it themselves. The Tribute Center is the true personal side of 9/11.

And with that… I’ll wrap up my post.

It’s one of heartache but happiness. You hear both when you talk to Lee. It’s easy for the rest of us to say we’ll never forget. Lee doesn’t have a choice and yet he knows he’s blessed and won’t hesitate to tell you that.

His therapy is honoring those who did NOT die in vain in the first battle of the War on Terror… and what a therapist he is for the rest of the world.

If you’re lucky you can catch Lee at the Tribute Center sometime soon. If you don’t find Lee, you can still find plenty of other volunteers willing to share their stories. You can also see Jonathan’s turnout gear, just the way it was found, months after 9/11/2001, lovingly displayed as only a father can do.

Let us always remember. Let us never forget.