Queens in the Post-9/11 Age

NY Daily News - September 29, 2009

by Denis Hamill

Shadow and light.

An imam of a Flushing mosque was arrested last week in connection with an alleged terrorist bombing plot.

At that same time, 2-1/2 miles away in College Point, a family planned a day to celebrate the life of a fallen 9/11 firefighter named Michael Elferis with a 5K run, barbecue and block party to raise money for various charities.

This is Queens in the post-9/11 age.

Juxtaposed against the terror plot arrests, Nancy Chalmers was busy getting out the word about the Oct. 3 5K run in honor of her big brother Mikey Elferis, who at age 27 raced from FDNY Engine Co. 22 in Manhattan on that clear blue morning of Sept. 11, 2001, to the World Trade Center to battle the evil handiwork of another group of twisted zealots.

It was to be Mikey Elferis' final run, as he and nine others from Engine 22/Ladder 13 perished in the towers.

"Mikey had touched so many people here in College Point that it left another giant hole in the neighborhood," says his kid sister, Nancy. "He had hundreds of friends. He played every sport as a kid and then as a police officer with NYPD and later for FDNY, where he fulfilled his childhood dream of being a fireman. Mikey played and coached kids' roller hockey in College Point. He loved the Yankees, Giants and the Rangers. He was really handsome, funny and smart and single and he took full advantage of it." She pauses to let her emotions settle. "Mikey lived, loved and laughed. And left behind a lot of broken hearts."

Especially those of his parents, Mary and Robert, and siblings Joseph, Robert, Elizabeth and Nancy.

But in proud, close-knit neighborhoods like College Point, they do not just bury their fallen heroes and forget them.

In College Point, they celebrate such a lost life with more life. With a sweaty fall run, and with happy kids and T-shirts, and food and cold beer, and by raising money for good people in need in these tough times.

The run, which has a $15 fee, $20 on race day, starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3, in McNeil Park, 115th St. and Poppenhusen Ave. A free half-mile Kids Fun Run starts at 11 a.m. A free barbecue follows at the Pourhouse Pub at 9-01 College Point Blvd., where the street will be closed to accommodate the 300 runners and those who just want to join the celebration of Mikey Elferis' life.

"In 2003 our family and Mikey's friends like Josef Ban, Jimmy Tighe, Brian McLoughlin, Rick King, Anthony Moreno and Jason Bonaventura started the Elferis Family Foundation," says Nancy. "We donate the money we raise to the Thomas R. Elsasser Fund, for the widows and children of firefighters who do not die in the line of duty. And to local charities like the College Point Roller Hockey League, where Mikey played and coached. Basically, we give back to the community, which helps keep Mikey's generous spirit alive."

Sample some of that generosity at www.9-11heroes.us/v/Michael_J_Elferis.php where you will find tributes from hockey kids he coached, saving them from drugs and other treacheries of the street; heartbroken notes from assorted girlfriends — one of whom says he had the best pickup line of all time; a Swedish tourist who says she will never forget her three weeks in New York with him; a woman he steered into drug and alcohol recovery; neighborhood buddies he laughed with across his short and important life in Public School 29, Junior High School 185, and Flushing High; cops and firefighters who had the honor of serving this city with him; and family members for whom the holidays will never be the same without him.

Read it and weep. Read it and rage.

For this is the kind of irreplaceable good-guy New Yorker these Al Qaeda cowards killed on 9/11. The kind of good and decent people they would like to bomb and kill again. Some of them plotting, authorities claim, right here in the spooky shadows of Queens.

"When I read about those arrests as we planned Mikey's run, I was overwhelmed," says Nancy. "Scary to think these same people are still determined to hurt us. It would be so easy to hate them. Instead I summon my inner-Mikey and see it as a matter of humanity. If you can't respect the preciousness of human life, which my brother Mikey did every day as a firefighter, then I feel sorry for you. Because that means these people can't enjoy their own lives. But it will not stop us from celebrating my brother's beautiful life on Oct. 3."

To join that celebration, tie on your sneakers for the 5K run, come eat and laugh and raise a frothy glass to Mikey Elferis in the bright light of Queens.

For more information, call (917) 859-6411 or visit www.elferisfamilyfoundation.com to register.