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Of WTC attacks, 'this is the hardest year ... since the first anniversary'

Published September 12. 2011 08:28AM

Steven Sofranko almost turned down a request for an interview about him witnessing one of the most horrific events to ever occur in the United States: the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Sofranko, a native of Jim Thorpe, was living in Princeton, N.J., at the time, commuting daily to the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Working 80 hour weeks, he was climbing the ladder of corporate success.

"What I didn't like is that it was like a Machiavellian Wall Street World," he said.

Sofranko, who was a director for a large financial firm, worked from an office on Water Street near the World Trade Center. His commute involved a subway at the WTC.

The morning of Sept. 11 began like any others. After exiting the subway, he took an escalator to a mall area.

He knew something was terribly wrong that morning after seeing police and firefighters rushing into the building. He soon learned that a plane flew into a tower. His first thought was that it was just an errant private plane.

He walked across the street to a park and stood next to a bronze statue of a businessman holding a suitcase. Then he saw a plane hit the second tower.

Sofranko said cell phone service was already down. He went to his office on the 33rd floor in the Water Street building and made two phone calls, one to his mother and the other to his best friend to let them know he was okay.

He then went to the lobby of his building. There was confusion. First he was told to exit the building. Then he was told to get back inside. Since there were $55 billion worth of bonds inside his buildings, there was speculation his building might become a target of the terrorists.

Eventually, he managed to leave the area via a ferry which took him to Jersey City. He then walked a few miles to Hoboken.

Sofranko admits this weekend is difficult.

"As far as it goes for thinking about 9/11, this is the hardest year I've had since the first anniversary," he said.

He continued, "I'd imagine that moving back home and decompressing from a life of working in New York has somehow enabled me to to digest and allow myself to feel things that I have probably kept buried for years.

"At times I feel a lot of guilt. I wonder why I was given a second chance at life while so many others weren't even given a chance to tell their loved ones how they feel about them. And then I think of the policemen and firemen who knowingly ran into the building. Most of which knew they would never come out and all of them (were) willing to do whatever they needed to do to help others.

"It's often said that it's impossible to defeat an enemy who has no fear of death and regards suicide acts of terror as heroic. I feel as though these Americans showed the world it's impossible to defeat someone who is willing to die for the sake of others.

"There were unforgettable acts of kindness throughout New York in the months that followed 9/11," he said. "Everyone in the streets seemed willing to extend a helping hand. It was the firemen and policemen who led the way to that end.

"I am afraid of being interviewed for I fear a message of sensationalism of a story of someone who that day was one of the luckiest people on earth. I don't mind people asking me about my experience but I feel guilty if the story becomes about me and not those to which I pray to God we never forget.

"All that being said, I think that if people who were there that day are willing to take stories back to their own communities it makes what happened more real and not just something of which we will see endless recounts on TV the next few weeks. And a nice way to honor the people who died that day is to talk about how it may have changed the way in which people now try to live.

"My immediate feelings after 9/11 was a need to reach out to family and friends and to try to be more aware of what is truly important in life. The ups and downs of daily life often cause me to lose focus but at this time of the year I'm definitely able to look at everything differently.

"The experience has changed my way of thinking in a few very good ways. I try to be kind to at least one stranger a day. Even if it's just people that you see in everyday life. A cashier at the market or at the gas station.

"In this area of Pennsylvania this type of thing is a more common theme but in New Jersey and New York you could go months without even saying hello to your next door neighbor. Although I was already going to church regularly, I found myself going with purpose. I made an effort to surround myself with people who had similar values.

"Two months after the attacks, I reconnected with a girl I had a crush on in high school. We married in 2003 and in 2005 were blessed with twins, a boy and a girl. Priorities changed again.

"I continued to work a few blocks from the World Trade until October 2008. During that time I avoided ground zero but did have to adjust my commute a few times so I had to pass through. Never a good feeling. I have not been back to New York since my last day working there. I hope to be able to visit sometime this fall.

"Our family moved back to the area in 2009. I was lucky to have the opportunity to take a new path in life. I wanted out of the cut throat life of Wall Street. I wanted to get involved in charity work and hopefully make a career of it.

"Given my background in finance and insurance a position with The Knights of Columbus was a perfect fit."

"I remember a lot from that day. And one of the most vivid is the faces of fireman and policeman running into the towers as I was walking out. I remember mustaches, equipment etc. but most of all the sheer honor of duty in their eyes.

"The guys I saw probably never came out of that building. They were willing to give their lives to help those who could not help themselves. We have people doing this everyday and unless you have a family member at war right now you may take our military for granted. I swore to myself that day if I could ever help any fireman, policeman, or member of our military I would."

"The day after the attacks The Knights of Columbus created The Hero's Fund which provided immediate assistance to every family who lost a servicemen on 9/11. Additionally, an educational trust fund was established decades ago to provide the children of a Brother Knight who is a full-time policeman, fireman, or member of our military who dies in the line of duty $25,000 per year per child to go to a Catholic college. Maybe I have selfish reasons as the guilt for me has not gone away. But in a small way I get to do something for the people who would do anything for me.

"So today I still feel like one of the luckiest guys in the world. I have a loving wife, great kids, a solid family and a real good group of friends. I live in a nice community with neighbors who watchout for each other. I'm happy to be working in finance again doing something I love to do while also helping the people who need it the most."

Sofranko and his wife, the former Karen Busocker of Jim Thorpe, are now living in Mahoning Township. They are the parents of twins, Madelyn and Matthew, age six.

When he moved back to the local area, his wife commuted four times a week to Temple where she received a doctorate in education and know is Assistant Dean of College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University.

"I was able to leave (New York), feeling I accomplished professional goals," he said. "That life is not conducive to accomplishing family goals."

He remembers his parents, Jim and Florence Sofranko of Jim Thorpe, attending every high school and college sporting event in which he participated.

He is a 1989 graduate of Marian Catholic High School and 1993 graduate of Susquehanna University where he played varsity football.

At Susquehanna, he lived next door to another football player who died at the World Trade Center.

The events of Sept. 11 have had a dramatic impact on him, especially relating to life's priorities.

"My life changed. I am more involved in family and charity," he said.

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