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Grandparents Day: The forgotten holiday of 9/11

On Sunday, as the nation remembers victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a few groups are working to honor more ordinary heroes.


This year, National Grandparents Day falls on the same day as the 10th anniversary of the nation's tragedy. No one planned it that way. According to the calendar, it just happened.

Former President Jimmy Carter proclaimed Grandparents Day in 1979 to recognize the contributions of grandparents and connect families. It's the first Sunday after Labor Day.

No matter what.

• • •

Marian McQuade, a West Virginia mother of 15, started the campaign in 1970. She wanted to give a voice to lonely people in nursing homes and help children tap into the wisdom of their elders.

McQuade persuaded her governor to declare Grandparents Day in 1973 and worked with elected officials in every state to make it a national holiday. They picked a day in September to signify the autumn years of life.

McQuade's descendents formed a nonprofit group to promote National Grandparents Day at the grassroots level. She died in 2008 at age 91.

The group realized a while ago that the day coincided with the 9/11 anniversary and modified its Grandparent of the Year Award to honor a veteran or someone directly affected. "We decided this year that we may as well join them than let them overshadow us,'' said DJ McQuade-Lancaster, one of McQuade's daughters.

This year's winner, George Ceko of Chicago, had to move his awards celebration to a school because his top choice, a veterans memorial, was booked for a 9/11 remembrance event.

The two events wouldn't have been a good fit, McQuade-Lancaster said.

Grandparents Day is supposed to be a happy time.

• • •

For decades, Grandparents Day had the day to itself. National Stepfamily Day followed a few days later, on Sept. 16, but only since 1997.

Then, the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001 — a Tuesday — and Patriots Day was born. From then on, the two would occasionally share a box on calendars everywhere.

Generations United hosts a Grand-Rally in Washington on Grandparents Day but this year changed it to Sept. 15 and expanded the observance to all week.

"We realized Grandparents Day is a day of celebration and we knew it was going to be a somber day because of the 10th anniversary,'' said Colleen Appleby-Carroll, a spokeswoman for Generations United.

They also knew many of the victims were grandparents.

Altering plans in respect of 9/11 isn't unprecedented. Last year, some Muslim groups scaled back their Eid al-Fitr, or end-of-Ramadan, festivities because holiday fell on Sept. 10. One Muslim center in Maryland, citing a need to be sensitive, limited observances to religious services.

• • •

Grandparents Day promoters hope citizens use the day to spend time with family and reflect on their lives — concepts that complement Sept. 11 tributes, not compete against them.

The Legacy Project invites children to interview their grandparents about their life experiences as part of its annual Listen to a Life essay contest, which starts on Grandparents Day.

Program director Brian Puppa said he never considered changing the date. In fact, he expects many essays will focus on how the attacks changed Americans.

"It's a natural way to talk about it. Many grandchildren weren't born when the event occurred or, if they were, they don't have a recollection of it,'' said Puppa, who is the brother of former Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Daren Puppa. "This is an opportunity for grandparents to share their feelings about where they were and how they felt when 9/11 occurred and help children understand how the event affected the country.''

McQuade-Lancaster urged people to visit someone in a nursing home who sees relatives only on holidays. Come with chocolate and hugs.

Or bring them Forget-me-nots. It's the official flower of Grandparents Day this year and every year.

Grand contest

The Legacy Project's Listen to a Life Essay Contest starts Sunday and runs through March 30. The contest is open to ages 8 to 18. Essays must be 300 words or fewer and based on interviews with a grandparent or "grandfriend'' at least 50 years old. For information, go to

Grandparents Day: The forgotten holiday of 9/11 09/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 12:29pm]
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