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Great Neck man's creations ease 9/11 pain
On Sept. 11, 2001, Allen Sedaka had an appointment with woodworking firm Bronx Builders at Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
When American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., Sedaka was stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
“I was supposed to be there,” said Sedaka, 56, of Great Neck. “I had a 9 a.m. appointment. They invited my company to restore terrazzo floors, but I was late.” His company, Durite, manufactures and installs surfacing materials.
While Sedaka was driving on the LIE to his appointment, his radio was turned off. But he knew something was wrong when he noticed emergency vehicles rushing by on their way to the city.
He was supposed to meet with Joshua Poptean from Bronx Builders and two others that day. He later found out that all three Bronx Builders employees were killed.
“I called Josh, but he didn’t answer,” said Sedaka, tears running down his cheek while recalling the day. “I kept calling and calling. I finally turned around and by the time I got home the second tower was hit.”
A couple of days later Sedaka visited Great Neck Alert Fire Co. 1, which is just blocks from his house, to see George Motchkavitz, 56, a good friend and the firehouse’s assistant foreman.
There he learned about yet another tragedy. Jonathan Ielpi joined the Great Neck Alert Fire Co. 1 in 1989 at age 17. He was a member of FDNY’s Squad 288 in Maspeth, Queens, when he was killed at the WTC at age 29.
Sedaka coped by turning to his building skills. He spent a year constructing an 11-foot sculpture of the Twin Towers, made of terrazzo. Initially the idea was to donate it to the City of New York. But he ended up using the sculpture to honor Ielpi, and donating it to Alert Fire Co. 1.
The stone helmet that rests at the statue’s base is an exact replica of lelpi’s helmet, which is meant to honor all the firefighters who perished. The Alert Fire Co. 1 emblem to the left of the helmet is in the location where lelpi’s body was found.
“I had to do something for them,” Sedaka said. “They put their life on the line for us and this is a small part of what I can do for them.”
Motchkavitz, for one, doesn’t see the gesture as small.
“He’s a modest guy. He doesn’t quite realize the impact he has on the world,” said Motchkavitz, 56. “People come from all over to see it. It’s a famous piece here at the firehouse.”
Sedaka wasn’t done there. In 2004 he built and donated a monument that’s displayed at the center of Eisenhower Park. The monument is an 8-foot-tall Maltese cross standing on a 15-foot base with the names of the fallen heroes from Nassau County embedded into the terrazzo face.
Sedaka’s biggest satisfaction in building the memorials is that visitors never forget what happened that September day.
“You’ll never forget the bravery of these men and women,” Sedaka said. “It lifts your spirit.”