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    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Family, friends keep names of local victims alive

    Erika Piver sits on "Josh's Bench" at Stonington Point on Sept. 8, 2021. The bench is in honor of her brother, Joshua Piver, a 1996 Stonington High School graduate, who was working on the 105th floor of 1 World Trade Center on 9/11. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)

    Erika Piver of Stonington remembers with vivid detail the frantic hours that followed news of a terrorist attack on 9/11.

    How could she not? Her younger brother, 23-year-old Joshua Piver, had only recently started his dream job with Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of 1 World Trade Center. The company reportedly lost 648 employees that day. Josh Piver was among them.

    Erika Piver was in a meeting when someone came in to announce a plane had crashed into one of the towers. It was followed by a call from her mother's boss. Her mother could be heard crying in the background. She and others scrambled to find Josh's new cell phone number only to find later that cell service in New York City was down. As news started to spread about the devastation, she called the elementary school where her children were in class.

    "I was panicking. I wanted to make sure nobody was talking about it in front of them," Piver said.

    She and the kids, during a recent visit with Josh, had visited the Windows of the World on the top floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

    Now, family members gathered together to await news.

    "Our hope was he was just missing. Maybe he was in the hospital with no identification?" she said.

    It wasn't long, however, before the reality of the situation set in. Josh Piver, the quiet, likable and fun-loving kid with a full life ahead of him, was gone.

    Tragic events have a way of bringing people and communities together.

    So, while the nation gathers to remember the lives lost during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there remains a fierce determination to keep memories of victims like Piver alive in eastern Connecticut.

    There are few better examples of that conviction than the grassroots efforts that sprang up following the deaths of both Piver and 32-year-old James Greenleaf Jr. of Waterford.

    Greenleaf was a former track and football standout at St. Bernard High School who was voted "best dressed" and "most handsome" and gradated in the top 2% of his class. He went on to attend Connecticut College, where he was captain of the rugby team. As many anticipated he would, Greenleaf started a successful career working as a foreign exchange trader at Carr Futures on the 92nd Floor of the World Trade Center.

    Greenleaf was among the victims that day.

    On Saturday morning, a group of people will arrive at Ocean Beach Park in New London for the start of an annual 5K Run, a fundraiser in honor of Greenleaf that is just one of several events that have contributed upwards of $500,000 toward the James A. Greenleaf Scholarship Fund. The scholarship has grown and expanded yearly and provides tuition for St. Bernard students and scholarships for graduating seniors at St. Bernard, Waterford, Fitch and New London high schools.

    A separate shoreline gathering is planned at Stonington Point, where a crowd will huddle around a memorial granite bench dedicated to Josh Piver. More than a dozen restaurants and businesses will donate a portion of the proceeds from that day to the Josh Piver Memorial Scholarship.

    'He was fun, funny'

    Piver was a 1996 graduate of Stonington High School, where he played soccer and spent summers with friends working at Dodson Boatyard. He went on to graduate from the University of Vermont with a degree in economics and environmental studies.

    Erika Piver remembers her brother as "just a kid living his best life."

    "He was quiet. Nothing ever made him mad. He was always the calming person in the room. He was fun, funny and loved to be outside. He worked hard. He wasn't the kind of kid that everything came super easy to," Erika said.

    The years that followed Piver's death saw a groundswell of support from the town of Stonington and local groups. There's a memorial bench at Stonington Point. The soccer field is named after her brother. The high school observes a moment of silence on Sept. 11 and has a class to teach students of the events of that day. Even when events were sidelined in 2020 because of the pandemic, Erika said the group managed to raise $15,000.

    "That's really a testament to the community and how much they've done to help us," she said.

    'A truly remarkable person'

    Greenleaf's longtime friend David McBride, who is still close to the family, said Greenleaf had a way about him that touched and influenced others. It's part of the reason he and other friends and family have been so successful raising money that has touched the lives of so many others.

    McBride recalls the day the 9/11 attacks happened. He was working with the Mohegan Tribe and in a conference room when someone came in to relay the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

    "Everybody was aghast. I immediately left work and went to the Greenleafs' house that day. Nobody knew what was happening," McBride said.

    There were hours without answers and some lingering hope that Greenleaf had somehow survived.

    "Everyone at the time believed they were going to find these individuals. It wasn't until days later that it hits you," McBride said.

    McBride, who had played football with Greenleaf at St. Bernard and visited New York City on numerous occasions, said there was an immediate response from Greenleaf's friends and members of the St. Bernard community.

    The outcome was the James Greenleaf Scholarship Memorial Scholarship Fund and a pledge that "Jimmy's" name would be associated with something that benefits the community in perpetuity.

    "I personally had a hard time dealing with the loss. What I tend to do in my life is to try and be positive about things. What can we do to memorialize him," said McBride, former director of the fund.

    Each year the fund organizes events that include golf tournaments, runs and gala dinners that have served to bring people together, which was part of the original intention of the scholarship fund.

    "Jimmy touched a lot of people. He knew how to relate to any individuals, a truly remarkable person," McBride said.

    Frank Marcille, the president of the scholarship foundation and Greenleaf's cousin, said there is a passion among supporters of the scholarship fund and the annual events have served to create a family that includes recipients of the scholarships who are too young to remember the events in 2001.

    Hundreds of kids have benefited. "They're the ones keeping Jimmy's name alive," he said.

    Erika Piver said she has a hard time expressing how much the support has meant to her and her family from individuals and organizations such as Rotary of the Stoningtons and Stonington Community Center.

    "I can't express how amazing they've been," she said.

    There is joy in seeing the community brought together in her brother's name, but the anniversary also brings heartbreak. Her three children have grown up without an uncle. Her mother has attended weddings for Josh's friends. The 9/11 anniversary and Josh's birthdays continue to be hard days.

    "You just think about the things he could have been doing," Erika Piver said.

    For more information visit: www.jamesgreenleaf.org and www.thecomo.org/scholarships


    Joshua Piver playing soccer for Stonington High School. A 1996 Stonington High School graduate, Piver was working on the 105th floor of 1 World Trade Center on 9/11. (Submitted Photo/Erika Piver)
    Joshua Piver with his family. A 1996 Stonington High. (Submitted Photo/Erika Piver)
    One of the last photos of Joshua Piver before the 9/11 attacks. (Submitted Photo/Erika Piver)
    James A. Greenleaf Jr. (Photo submitted.)

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