On Sept. 11, 2001, Delena Knoke was sitting at her desk at her former employer when she received an email from her sister about the terrorist attacks.
“The email said someone just hit the twin towers, and I was like, ‘What?’ So I ran down to the break room to check out the TV, and people were starting to gather there,” she said.
The rest of that day and its aftermath is now a part of history, but for many, it will never be forgotten.
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Fourteen years later, Knoke of Columbus found herself spending the anniversary of Sept. 11 donating her time and efforts to make the world a little better.
Through Cummins Inc.’s annual community work day Friday, Knoke and about 250 of her co-workers from Seymour Engine Plant and Cummins’ Columbus headquarters spent eight hours completing a variety of service projects throughout Jackson County.
Some crews spent the day cleaning out ditches and trimming public areas around the city. Others worked to beautify and improve local parks. There also were groups helping senior citizens with outdoor work around their homes, and others visited area youth camps to clean, make repairs and complete small projects.
Knoke started her day by repainting early learning trails on sidewalks in Gaiser Park. With each stroke of fresh paint, the letters, numbers and shapes became brighter and more visible.
It was her first time to be involved in service projects in Seymour, she said. Last year she participated in Columbus.
This year’s community workday held special meaning to all those who showed up because it happened to fall Sept. 11, which has become a national day of service and remembrance.
By giving back and helping others, Knoke said, it was a way for people to come together to show they still care.
“This is the perfect day to be out here giving back to our community,” she said. “Coming together as one, trying to put some unity and peace back in the world, especially on such a somber day.”
Knoke said the distance between Indiana and the three locations where hijacked planes crashed — the World Trade Center in New York, a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon in Washington — are hundreds of miles apart, but that distance didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now.
“Everybody was touched in some way, shape or form,” she said of the events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. “Even if you weren’t personally involved or have a relative or friend personally involved, it touched us as Americans, as people, as human beings.”
Leading the Cummins workday event this year was Joshua Phipps.
There are not many companies that would give their employees the day off with pay to go out and volunteer, he said. Cummins allows for two full eight-hour days a year.
“From management down, everyone here is a huge believer in community involvement and giving back to our neighbors,” he said.
For several weeks, Phipps and team leaders met with city workers and representatives from Jackson County United Way to coordinate the projects. The idea to help senior citizens was new this year, and Phipps believed that work would really have an impact on both the individuals they were helping and the volunteers.
“It’s a little more personal than just cleaning out a ditch or repairing a sidewalk,” he said. “Our people will get to meet and talk to these seniors.”
Tonja Couch, director of Jackson County United Way, said the seniors were looking forward to the workers coming.
“We’re excited for this one-on-one opportunity for you to connect with them,” she told the volunteers.
Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman and Couch stopped by early Friday to offer their appreciation to the workers.
“A lot of these projects we can’t get to during the year,” Luedeman said. “We can’t say thank you enough.”
Although the projects require a lot of physical labor, Phipps said, the crew members have fun and were ready to get to work.
“It’s an opportunity to get out of the office and use our hands,” he said. “A lot of us here today are engineers, and we spend most of our time sitting at a desk.”
Scott Halterman, who has worked for Cummins for nearly 30 years, said the event not only allows employees to give back and help others but also serves as a team building experience.
“We get to know each other a little better, and we get to know the communities we serve better,” Halterman said. “It’s great for some of our employees who are new to the area to become more aware of community needs and what’s going on.”
The past couple of years, Halterman has been assigned ditch work and was planning to do more of the same this year.
“I’ve become kind of an expert ditch cleaner I guess,” he said.
Before the work began, Phipps and the volunteers gathered at Gaiser Park to talk about the day.
He told them that, in light of 9/11, it was fitting to pay tribute to all those who died in the attacks and to those who risked their own lives to help save others, including firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel and other rescue workers.
“We should be thankful for the opportunity we have today to make a difference in our community and in people’s lives,” he said.