Remembering Chicago’s Fallen on September 11, 2001
The following tributes were compiled from the individuals’ obituaries, articles, statements from friends and family, and biographies sourced from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. We recognize that these are mere glimpses of these individuals’ lives, and that the full scope of each person’s life and legacy can never be contained within a few brief paragraphs. We encourage you to visit the links at the bottom of this page to learn more. We have also included a list of resources for those struggling with grief and loss. To share your own story, please email Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether reading this transcript or listening to the podcast episode, please take care, as this may be triggering for some readers and listeners.
Kathy Bantis, 44. Kathy was among the 295 Marsh & McLennan employees who perished in the World Trade Center attacks. Having moved to Seattle in 1993, Kathy was known for her nurturing spirit and had formed deep bonds with her friends, akin to sisterhood. Despite relocating to Chicago in 1999, the distance did little to dilute the close ties she had with her friends; they stayed connected through visits and frequent calls. Kathy was in New York on business, and scouting new homes for an upcoming job promotion, when she was tragically present in the first tower during the attack. Those who remember Kathy reflect on her with mixed emotions, sometimes joy and other times deep sorrow. The impact of her loss has inspired them to cherish relationships more, showing affection openly and making conscious efforts to reach out to loved ones. The aftermath of September 11 may have momentarily paralyzed them with hatred, but love propels them forward.
Jeffrey Collman, 42. A flight attendant hailing from Yorkville IL, Jeffrey was on American Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. Typically, Jeffrey worked the Boston-to-San Francisco route, allowing him to commute conveniently to his residence in Navato, California and connect two cities he loved. The reason for his presence on Flight 11 was unforeseen; he opted for an extra shift so he could take time off for his 42nd birthday celebration on September 28. For Jeffrey, travel was pure joy. His journey to becoming a flight attendant was a testament to his determination; after a rejection from United Airlines, he got accepted by American Airlines on his second application. Aside from his love for flying, Jeffrey was an avid tennis enthusiast, even attending the U.S. Open the week before the tragedy.
His partner, Keith Bradkowski, received an unexpected phone call from Jeff the night before the tragedy. On the call, Jeff conveyed his deep love for Keith and eagerly anticipated his return home later that week. That brief conversation, lasting merely three minutes, was the last time they spoke.
The aftermath of the tragedy propelled Bradkowski to lobby for LGBTQ rights, driven by challenges he faced over inheritance rights as a registered domestic partner. With fervor and unwavering determination, he championed California Assembly Bill 2216, which eventually granted these rights to domestic partners. Bradkowski’s advocacy efforts further led to a policy change by American Airlines regarding compensation and benefits to domestic partners of deceased employees.
Collman’s legacy continues through the book, “Jeff’s Way,” published in 2007. It outlines his journey of resilience and strength, especially after a turbulent childhood marked by his mother’s abandonment and a stint in foster care. Despite his tumultuous past, Collman remained an emblem of positivity, ensuring he and Bradkowski never ended a day with lingering anger.
Their relationship was beautifully encapsulated by the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler, a melody that resonates with Bradkowski to this day. Two decades later, he finally penned a heartfelt letter to Midler, expressing gratitude for the song that continuously brings solace and keeps Collman’s spirit alive.
Bradkowski frequently revisits a cherished letter from Collman, penned on their decade-long anniversary. The words serve as a poignant reminder of their undying bond: “I love you truly, Keith Alan Bradkowski…know how much you mean to me now and always.”
Andrea Haberman, 25. Andrea experienced her inaugural business journey to her New York office. In her parents’ Wisconsin residence, a drawer preserved Andrea’s distressed wallet, a partially fused cell phone, her ID, credit cards, checkbook, and house keys, for nearly six years. Time had corroded her eyeglass rims; the lenses nowhere in sight. These common possessions stand as silent testimonials to a life tragically truncated on September 11, 2001, when a commandeered plane hit the World Trade Center’s north tower. On the cusp of matrimony with her college beloved, Andrea was in New York City for the first time, representing the brokerage firm Carr Futures. That fateful morning, she began her day early for work meetings and was conversing with her Chicago office when disaster struck. The remnants of her belongings, still carrying the acrid scent of the tragedy, bring waves of grief to her family. To find solace, they donated these items to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
Vanessa Kolpak, 21. A bright young woman from Lincolnwood, Vanessa was in service for an investment firm stationed in the South Tower of the WTC. The day’s horrors began, and she contacted her mother to assure her safety, only to face the subsequent tower impact. Vanessa’s magnanimous spirit was marked by generosity, laughter, and an unwavering support for others. She illuminated paths with her intellect and ardor for knowledge, enriching the lives of those fortunate enough to know her. With her early education in Chicago, Vanessa graduated with high honors from Georgetown University, majoring in economics and minoring in philosophy and theatre. Just three weeks before 9/11, she commenced her role as a financial researcher at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Her talents extended beyond academia; she was an accomplished violinist, debater, golfer, and a recognized scholar. To honor Vanessa, a teddy bear, crafted from the dress she donned for her job interview, sits in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, adorned with a teal ribbon bearing the words: “Love, Vanessa.”
Suzanne Kondratenko, 27. An alumna of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, Suzanne was on the 92nd floor of the WTC’s South Tower, serving as a consultant for the Chicago-based Aon Corporation. As she descended the stairs, she paused on the 78th floor to assist a woman struggling to breathe, sacrificing her possible escape. Her acts of selflessness were remembered in memorial services in Chicago and at Sacred Heart.
Suzanne’s legacy at the Academy of the Sacred Heart is palpable. A dynamic individual, she served as student body president and always left an indelible mark with her vibrancy. In 2009, the academy named its infant classroom “Suzanne’s Nest” in her memory, a gesture that the Kondratenko family deeply cherishes. Eric Kondratenko, Suzanne’s father, recalls how Suzanne lived life fully and passionately, participating actively in her community. Suzanne’s connection with the academy is profound, with Patricia Kondratenko, Suzanne’s mother, emphasizing that her daughter’s spirit endures within the academy’s walls.
Darya Lin, 32. Raised during Iran’s turbulent times and acquainted with adversity from a young age, Darya showcased her brave heart on September 11. As a senior manager with Keane Consulting Group, Darya chose to stay behind on the 78th floor, attempting to aid a pregnant client while her colleagues sought safety. Darya had a profound awareness of life’s fragility, once leaving a note in a borrowed shoe, aware that it might be a way to identify her should something happen. Having migrated from Iran to Ann Arbor, Michigan, at 11, Darya’s adult life was filled with travels and explorations. Her mother fondly remembers her thoughtful letters written in Persian, expressing gratitude. Darya and Suzanne were together in their final moments.
Both Suzanne and Darya exemplify the essence of selflessness, bravery, and the spirit of living life to its fullest. Their memories serve as lasting reminders of the deep imprints one can leave on the world.
Jeff Mladenik, 43. The Hinsdale native tragically perished on Flight 11. A dedicated leader in the realm of Internet publishing, Mr. Mladenik held the position of interim chief executive officer at eLogic in Los Angeles. But beyond his professional achievements, he was deeply rooted in faith, serving as an associate pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook, where he engaged in meaningful discussions about spirituality in daily life. His impact on those around him was profound. Bill Cirignani, a church member and friend, spoke of Mr. Mladenik’s infectious passion for God, which inspired and rekindled his own faith.
Jeffrey’s life was also marked by his deep devotion to his family. He left behind his wife, Suzanne, two daughters—Kelly and Grace, two sons—Joshua and Daniel, and a baby girl, Hannah, in China whom they were in the process of adopting.
Amidst his demanding work schedule, Jeffrey Mladenik consistently found solace in the scriptures. Friends recall that he often spent his frequent long-haul flights between Boston and Los Angeles engrossed in the Bible. A member of his church said he believes that during the tragic hijacking of Flight 11, Jeff would have had his Bible open, offering solace and prayers to his fellow passengers.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Murphy, 38. Commander Murphy met his tragic end alongside 183 others in the terrorist attack when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. A product of Marian Catholic High School’s 1981 graduating class, Lt. Cmdr. Murphy hailed from Flossmoor, Illinois. He furthered his education with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Mississippi in 1986. At the time of the attack, he was on a brief, two-week Reserve assignment at the Navy Command Center.
His ties to the University of Mississippi ran deep. Glen Murphy, a former teammate from the Ole Miss Rugby Club, remains committed to ensuring that Patrick’s memory is not forgotten. When the Rugby Club marked its 40th anniversary, they paid tribute to Patrick and others from their ranks who have passed.
The Pentagon Memorial Website houses a heartfelt tribute to Lt. Cmdr. Murphy, describing him as a deeply committed individual, placing paramount importance on family, God, and nation. His sacrifice has left an indelible mark on many, from family members to fellow countrymen, who pray for his peaceful repose.
Back in his hometown, his memory is etched onto the streetscape. A street sign in Chicago Heights, where Patrick spent his early years, now reads: “Patrick Murphy Way, September 11, 2001.”
Christine Olender, 39. Christine was a native of Chicago with a deep-rooted passion for fashion. From an early age, she was immersed in the fashion world through her parents’ Northwest Side clothing store, Cragin-Hanson. Though she initially attended Mundelein College, her aspirations led her to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. After graduating, Christine chose to remain in New York, gradually transitioning from fashion to hospitality.
For half a decade, she held the role of assistant general manager at Windows on the World, a prestigious restaurant located on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower. In her role, Christine brought a unique blend of creativity and dedication, supervising the morning staff and bringing a tasteful eye to the remodeling of dining spaces. The management, as well as her colleagues, consistently praised her broad knowledge across departments and her unwavering sunny demeanor, making her an invaluable asset to the establishment.
Though she embraced the vibrant life New York offered, Christine never lost her connection to her family in Chicago. Regular surprise visits and frequent phone calls were a testament to her dedication to her family, especially her mother, Stella. The tragic events of September 11th meant that the familiar light on Stella’s answering machine indicating a message from Christine would never blink again. Struggling with the weight of the tragedy, Stella and her son traveled to New York for a memorial service, hoping to find some semblance of closure, even without the discovery of her daughter’s remains.
Christine’s vibrant spirit shone bright in her personal life too. Born on the Fourth of July, she was often referred to as a “little firecracker” by her mother. Yet, as much as the date symbolized celebration, it also highlighted a sense of solitude for her. New York City typically went silent on this day, prompting Christine and her friend, Melissa Trumbull, who shared the same birthday, to create their own traditions. They’d order a strawberry shortcake, pair it with a bottle of champagne from Windows on the World, and celebrate their day together.
Remembered for her practicality (except, apparently, when it came to shoes), Christine’s legacy is one of passion, dedication, and an effervescent spirit that touched everyone she knew.
Lt. Darin Pontell, 26. Arlington Heights native Lieutenant Pontell met a tragic end during the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, just as he was concluding his 12-hour duty in the intelligence department. His wife, Devora, fondly remembered him as a beacon of positivity, whose generosity and warmth resonated with all who knew him. Committed to his country, Darin graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1998 and was soon designated as an intelligence officer. His exemplary service included deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf aboard the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, during which he provided crucial intelligence for critical missions. His dedication was recognized with multiple medals, including a posthumous Purple Heart.
Robert Rasmussen, 42. The Hinsdale resident and dedicated financial consultant tragically met his end in the South Tower of the WTC. Robert’s illustrious career spanned from M.A. Mortenson Construction to Coopers & Lybrand and finally, Vestek in 1996. Survived by his wife, three young children, mother Elizabeth, siblings, and a host of relatives, Robert’s loss is deeply felt. His last moments were witnessed by a survivor, whose testimony provided a modicum of closure to his family. Memorials to honor his memory were held in Hawley, MN, and Hinsdale.
Susan Sauer, 49. A Chicago resident and managing director at Marsh Inc., Susan was known not only for her dedication to her profession but also for her deep passion for travel. Determined and goal-oriented, she aimed to visit 50 countries before her 50th birthday and was just two countries short of reaching that milestone. Susan’s adventurous spirit had her planning a unique trip, including a cooking school in Italy and quick stops in Hungary and Wales to achieve her goal. Although questions arose about the technicality of her count, her previous visit to Czechoslovakia lent weight to her claim.
Beyond her work and love for travel, Susan was an ardent golfer, influenced by one of her five cherished nephews who had secured a golf scholarship. Her other pursuits included hiking, needlepoint, and a recent stint at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley. Pictures in her Chicago office revealed her juxtaposed against mountainous terrains, reflecting her love for nature.
A graduate of Wheaton Central High School and Illinois State University, Susan joined Marsh in 1992 and was remembered by colleagues, like Christopher Long, for her constant smile and unwavering positivity. On the fateful day of September 11, while attending a meeting at the World Trade Center, Susan became one of the many Marsh and McLennan employees who tragically went missing. Her absence left a void in the lives of those she touched, both personally and professionally.
Navy Cmdr. Dan F. Shanower, 40. Commander Shanower was a dedicated servant of the nation and native of Naperville, Illinois,who tragically lost his life in the Pentagon. Born on February 7, 1961, he showcased his leadership and spirit from an early age, playing for Naperville Central High School’s varsity soccer team before graduating in 1979. He furthered his education at Carroll College, earning a Bachelor’s in Political Science and interning for Senator Charles Percy in Washington.
His commendable naval journey began with a commission as an Ensign in 1985. Throughout his illustrious career, CDR Shanower held multiple critical positions, from serving on the U.S.S. Midway to working as a Foreign Service Officer in the Philippines and eventually rising to the rank of Commander in December 2000. His last assignment was in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC, where he provided essential intelligence support to the Navy Secretariat and other key officials.
Throughout his career, CDR Shanower was a recipient of numerous accolades, including the Defense Meritorious Service Award, Navy Commendation Medals, and the Purple Heart. His dedication and service to the country were further acknowledged posthumously by his alma mater, Carroll College, and his high school.
But beyond his remarkable professional achievements, those who knew Dan cherished his warm smile, exceptional sense of humor, and his profound love for the sea, exploration, and writing. His penned reflections, including an emotional piece titled “Freedom Isn’t Free,” illuminated the sacrifices made by military personnel and their belief in a cause greater than themselves.
Leaving behind a legacy of honor, bravery, and commitment, CDR Shanower is survived by his parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. He was laid to rest with solemn honors at Arlington National Cemetery on October 1, 2001.
Mari-Rae Sopper, 35. A lawyer from Washington, D.C., and a native of Palatine, met a tragic end on September 11, 2001, aboard Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles. Born on June 19, 1966, she was setting forth to embrace a dream role as the head coach of the women’s gymnastics team at the University of California Santa Barbara. However, she never arrived; terrorists hijacked her flight, and it crashed into the Pentagon, claiming the lives of 64 individuals on board, as well as 125 in the Pentagon itself.
A star gymnast since her youth, Mari-Rae excelled at Fremd High School in Palatine and was awarded Fremd’s Athlete of the Year in 1984. Her talent ran in the family, with her sister, Tammy, also achieving state honors in the sport. Mari-Rae’s gymnastics journey took her to Iowa State University and later, while pursuing further education and her legal career, she coached at the Colorado Gymnastics Institute and other establishments. Remarkably, she also served at the Pentagon during a stint as a lieutenant in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, later joining the Supreme Court Bar in Washington, D.C. Her deep passion for gymnastics persisted; she assisted the U.S. Naval Academy women’s gymnastics team and coached at George Washington University.
Before accepting her dream role at Santa Barbara, Mari-Rae practiced law in Washington, D.C. Despite knowing about the program’s imminent closure at UC Santa Barbara and the significant pay cut involved, her dedication to gymnastics prevailed.
Posthumously, she has been honored with various awards and memorials, both in gymnastics and in remembrance of the tragic events of 9/11. The “Mari-Rae Sopper Gymnastics Memorial Fund”, established by her mother, has aided struggling gymnastics programs, and she’s commemorated at events and venues, including the annual “Mari-Rae Sopper Invitational” and the “Mari-Rae Sopper Gymnastics Show”. Additionally, her legacy is etched in memorials across the U.S., such as the National September 11 Memorial in New York and the Pentagon’s light bench memorials.
Mari-Rae’s final resting place is the Arlington National Cemetery, where her name, along with other victims, is inscribed on a dedicated memorial.
Mary Lenz Wieman, 43. The marketing executive at Aon Corp. was working on one of the South Tower’s upper floors when the building was attacked. Her children, Alison and Chris, were at school, and her husband, Marc, was also in Manhattan but managed to escape on foot. The chilling aftermath saw Alison and Chris return home without their mother’s welcoming presence.
Marc, trying to shield the young ones from the harrowing truth, initially told them that their mother might be absent for a few days due to an incident. However, the gravity of the situation was clear to Alison, even at her young age. Chris, who first heard of the attacks at school, clung to the hope that their mother would emerge safe. But as the days turned to weeks, hope began to wane, and the grim reality set in. A haunting token of Mary’s presence that day—a class ring—was eventually found amid the wreckage.
In the aftermath, Rockville Centre’s close-knit community’s support was a bittersweet salve to the family’s wounds. While the town’s compassion was comforting, the perpetual condolences became a poignant reminder of their loss. For Alison, attending Villanova University provided a reprieve, a place where not everyone knew her story.
Years have passed, but Mary’s memory remains alive in her children’s hearts. They cherish memories of her, from family trips to Disney to her vibrant personality that always sought joy and inclusivity. As the 20th anniversary of that fateful day approached, the siblings expressed that the number of years matters little; the void left by their mother’s absence remains deep and unyielding. As Alison prepares for her wedding, the bittersweet realization dawns that she has now lived most of her life without her mother’s guidance and warmth.
As we reflect upon the events of September 11, it is vital to remember that beyond the shadow of that fateful day lies the radiant light of countless lives—lives filled with laughter, love, dreams, and triumphs. These were individuals who touched the hearts of many, who left behind legacies of joy, and who contributed to the tapestry of our shared human experience. While the weight of the tragedy will always linger, let us shift our focus to celebrate the vibrant lives they led, cherishing the moments they shared and the memories they created. In doing so, we not only honor their existence but also ensure that their spirits continue to inspire and uplift us, reminding us of the boundless capacity of the human heart to love, persevere, and hope.
A list of sources for this article, as well as resources for those struggling with grief, are located below.
The Center for Grief Recovery & Therapeutic Services – This organization offers specialized counseling services to help individuals cope with various forms of grief.
Willow House – A nonprofit focused on supporting grieving children, families, schools, and communities through various support services.
Chicago Survivors: This is a local grief and support group for those who have been affected by violence. They primarily service families who have lost loved ones to gang-based crime, but they offer a plethora of resources for anyone struggling to deal with a tragic event.
Sources for this episode include: