After Sept. 11, 2001, one of the businesses that was located on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center wanted to do something to combat the evil that had taken place.
Investment banking firm Sandler O’Neill & Partners lost 66 employees in the attack, people whose families would now be without the love, support and financial stability those employees provided.
Along with paying salaries to the end of the year and extending health benefits for some time, the Sandler O’Neill Foundation was started to provide the 76 children left behind with college tuition. It was something tangible the company could offer to help those who had lost a parent, to remind them they would not be forgotten.
In 2015, then-editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland Brian Doyle contacted the foundation to talk about the children the company helped.
“We were up and running by the end of the first week,” Andy Armstrong, who helped start the foundation, told Doyle. “We wanted the families of the lost to know that we would always remember, that the passing years would never sweep this under the rug. People donated many millions of dollars to set up the foundation. We have no salaries and no expenses except fees to stay extant.
“I know most of the children who went to college. You wouldn’t believe some of the letters they have written in appreciation. I think they particularly appreciate that we remember their mom or dad this way. Many of them hardly knew their moms and dads.”
The youngest eligible child was born six weeks after the attack. By 2015, 54 of the 76 had accepted the foundation’s assistance.
Those 54 chose a variety of different schools, including community colleges, technical institutes and prestigious universities.
When asked why he decided to create a foundation, Sandler O’Neill’s partner, Jimmy Dunne, had a simple answer.
“Because there was a moment in time to stand up,” he said. “Because we believed that what we did would echo for a hundred years in the families of our people, their kids and their grandkids. Because how we conducted ourselves in those first few hours and days would define who we really were and what we were about.
“Because I knew that if we were not honorable, then we stood for nothing. I concluding immediately that we would not be intimidated, we would not go out of business, we will come back stronger than ever, and be an example of people who worked and lived with honor. And that meant taking care of our people and their children with respect and reverence. So we did that.”
Dunne gave the 2021 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, where he again recognized those men and women who lost their lives, the families they left behind and the children the foundation was able to help.
“We set up scholarships, and this year several more of those young men and women are graduating from college: Colin Farrell from Syracuse; Margaret Smith from Cornell, Brendan Fitzpatrick from the aforementioned Boston College — which, by the way is where his dad went. And his dad and I had a lot of going back and forth over the years, he was a heck of a guy — and Robert Wright from Villanova,” he said.
“And there’s one more. A close friend of mine who died on September 11th was an outstanding man named Kevin Crotty. He was a superstar at our company and was always giving other people encouragement. Kevin had two sons, and a daughter, and they have a great mother.
“One of those boys, Kyle, graduated from here three years ago, and the other is graduating today — your classmate, Sean Patrick Crotty.”
“For a company once located on the 104th floor of 2 World Trade Center, nothing is ever the same. The aftermath never quite ends. And we all learn that this is the deal in life. It won’t always be fair, but you take it as it is. Along with the good experiences, there’s no way around the tough ones.”
The actions that Dunne and the others took after 9/11 are evidence that as long as people react compassionately and generously during those inevitable tough times, humanity has a fighting chance.