Champaign County community members John and Bev Titus lost their daughter, Graham High School graduate Alicia Titus, in the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy. At the time, Alicia was working as a flight attendant on United 175 which hit the South tower.
Ever since that day, Champaign County community members have worked to solemnly remember that date in history, including a slate of local events being organized this year for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
About Freedom Grove
Before 9/11, the Rotary Club of Urbana was seeking a project to pursue to benefit the community. Rotarian Don Bauer was particularly instrumental in one of the club’s largest projects – Freedom Grove.
The following year on Sept. 11, 2002, the Board of Champaign County Commissioners enthusiastically adopted the Rotary Club’s vision and passed a resolution establishing “Freedom Grove.” This memorial has become a place where people can gather and reflect on the sacrifices made in order to maintain our country’s freedoms. The memorial is located between state Route 55 and U.S. Route 68 on county-owned property.
The Rotary Club promotes this project as a “county collaboration” noting that the community has been heavily involved.
Judge Nick Selvaggio was president of the Rotary Club at the start of this project. Selvaggio, along with fellow Rotarians, worked tirelessly to make the memorial the best it could be. They wanted to comfort the Titus family as they mourned the loss of their daughter. They wanted to help the entire community, realizing that each American was affected by the tragedy one way or another. They wanted to remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our country, not only in the 2001 attacks, but also in previous war times.
Phase I of the project consisted of a brick bell tower to house Champaign County’s Bicentennial Bell, 10 monuments spanning from the Revolutionary War to the current war on terror, a brick plaza built from donated bricks from a brick drive, 85 planted trees and a half-mile gravel walkway through the 6-acre park.
Phase II consisted of the establishment of a World Trade Center steel artifact. The hallowed piece of twisted steel depicts the violent events of the tragedy. The surrounding ground is mounded in waves, a picture of the “ripple effect” caused by the crashes. Two stars face north and south, representing the Twin Towers.
When local Rotarians went to New York to retrieve the steel artifact, they were in awe. Selvaggio said each time an artifact is presented to a community, the people there perform a ceremony before it leaves the warehouse.
“The solemnity of the environment was overwhelming,” said Selvaggio. “They had a ceremony each time an artifact left.”
On the way back to Freedom Grove, they placed an American flag over the artifact to mark its significance. Once they got back to Ohio on Sept. 11, 2011, they performed a parade that visited the people of West Liberty, Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg and ended in Urbana. They said there were crowds of people during the parade, watching to see the artifact being brought home. Roughly 1,000 people were present during the homecoming ceremony at Freedom Grove.
Rotarian Terry Howell was in the group that went to New York to get the artifact.
“I was a farmer at the time,” said Howell. “I was hesitant to commit, but I did. I am glad I did. It was one of the most memorable experiences that I have ever had in my life. Seeing the artifacts was overwhelming. I don’t think there were any of us that walked out of there without getting teared up.”
“Just understanding that these were items recovered from a burial site where people lost their lives in horrific fashion,” said Selvaggio. “The twisted, destructed, large scale pieces of artifact, told their own stories about what people must have gone through.”
A ceremony will be held on Saturday, Sept. 11 at Freedom Grove. The Scouts in partnership with local veterans and civic groups will be changing out flags at Freedom Grove on Sept. 11 at 4:30 p.m., as well as conducting a flag raising at dusk, when flags are to return to full staff. In addition, there will be a general memorial for all of the victims of 9/11 at the conclusion of a flag retirement ceremony.
The Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund
The Titus family started a memorial fund in Alicia’s honor. With 2021 being the 20th anniversary of 9/11, there will be two community events held in Alicia’s memory.
The annual Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Walk/Run will be held on Sept. 11 at 9:03 a.m., after a moment of silence. The walk/run starts at Freedom Grove, 1512 S. U.S. Route 68, Urbana. All 5K finishers will receive a Commemorative Peace-building award and 1 mile finishers will receive ribbons. Post-race refreshments will be provided. Children’s activities and live music will be held downtown across from Carmazzi’s in conjunction with Art Affair on the Square. To register online, visit: www.cantstoprunningco.com.
On Sunday, Sept. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Urbana Christian Conference Center, 1778 state Route 29, Urbana, there will be a commemoration event for the 20th anniversary. Speaker and author Marianne Williamson will give a speech and there will be a performance by the World House Choir. Bev and John Titus will reflect on the memory of their daughter as well. Reserve your seats at www.eventbrite.com.
All funds for these events go directly into Alicia’s peace fund which provides educational opportunities for children to learn about the importance of world peace. Funds also go towards a scholarship given to high school students for further education in Alicia’s honor.