Caring for veterans after personal 9/11 loss

After Carole O’Hare’s mother was killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, she decided to focus on helping others. It’s what her mom would do.

Hilda Marcin and her daughter, Carole O’Hare are enjoying dinner together

Fidelity Charitable donor Carole O’Hare, right, with her mother Hilda Marcin in the late 1990s. Marcin was killed in the crash of Flight 93 during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

After Carole O’Hare’s mother was killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, anonymous donors sent funds through the American Red Cross to help ease O’Hare’s loss.

Immediately, O’Hare knew there was only one thing to do with the money.

“I was so touched by that generosity – it reminded me of my mother,” O’Hare says. “I knew I was stable financially, and I knew giving back would be the best way to cope with what I had to cope with. Giving back was the best way to honor my mom.”

O’Hare contacted Fidelity Charitable and set up a Giving Account. She’s been recommending grants to charity ever since, most often to nonprofit organizations that support veterans.

It’s what her mom would do.

“I miss her every day”

Hilda Marcin, 79, boarded United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, newly retired and on her way to start a new life: moving from her longtime home in New Jersey to live with O’Hare in northern California.

Marcin was a beloved special education teacher, a lifelong animal lover, the neighbor you could always rely on for anything from a ride to the grocery store to – as O’Hare recalls happening more than once – help taking care of your kids during a health crisis.

Marcin’s big heart extended to animals. At one point, the family home was nearly bursting with Marcin’s rescued strays: two dogs, two rabbits, a canary, a parakeet, two cats and four kittens.

“People would say, ‘Hilda’s always helping somebody,’” O’Hare says. “Everybody gravitated towards her.”

I feel like the best way to honor my mom is to help veterans in any way I can.

Marcin led her life based on two tenets: perseverance and generosity. When she moved to the United States at age 8, Marcin had to repeat first grade three times because she didn’t understand English. She kept working until she spoke it well enough to eventually earn her high school diploma. During World War II, Marcin worked in the New Jersey shipyards seven days a week, taking only one day off in three years: the day she married O’Hare’s father. She was back at work the next morning.

“My mom had a lot of strength and perseverance – I always admired that in her,” says O’Hare, who is a retired Ford Motor Company field manager. “Because of her influence, I try to do the best I can at anything I do.”

The day Marcin was to arrive in California, O’Hare was ready: her mom’s room had newly painted walls and clean sheets on the bed. A chocolate cake with “Welcome Home, Mom” written in frosting was waiting in the refrigerator.

“As the years go by, you’d think you’d become numb to it, but you don’t forget,” O’Hare says. “I will always remember the day she was killed, and how awful that day was. I miss her every day.”

Helping veterans – and other 9/11 families

Nearly 20 years later, O’Hare focuses much of her giving on helping veterans through organizations like the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

“So many who joined the military after 9/11 lost their lives or have been left disabled,” she says. “For people to have stepped forward to serve after 9/11, knowing they would be serving in dangerous places like Iraq and Afghanistan – it’s such a sacrifice.”

She also loves to recommend grants to charities that help animals, a way to continue the legacy of her mom’s rescue work.

O’Hare threw herself into volunteer work post-9/11, and has been actively helping other families who lost a loved one on Flight 93 ever since. She volunteered to serve as a central media contact so families didn’t have to deal with a high volume of calls. She pitched in to help raise money for the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and served on one of the juries to help select its design. For ten years, she put together a monthly newsletter to help the families keep in touch with each other and share helpful information.

O’Hare and her husband now live in Arizona. It’s still tough without her mother, but Marcin’s two primary lessons have helped get O’Hare through: Perseverance. And – especially – generosity.

“It doesn’t have to be a lot,” O’Hare says. “If you feel strongly about giving to something and if you can find a way to give – do it.”

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