On Sept. 11, the New York City Police Department lost about 400 police cars to the falling World Trade Center towers. This month, thanks to Rotarians in our area, they got one back.
"We wanted to do something tangible for the people of New York," said Larry Warren, governor nominee of District 6650, which encompasses eastern Ohio's 48 Rotary clubs.
Warren has been a member of the service organization since 1985. His day job is supervisor of pupil personnel at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center. Warren has an easygoing style, smiles frequently, and instantly puts you at ease.
"We started to brainstorm and Dave Ewing, a Chevy dealer in Canton, helped us come up with the idea of donating a police car," he said. "There are about 2,600 members in our district. If we could get just $10 each, we could buy it."
Trying it out
It was an inspirational approach. "The car had 6,000 miles on it by the time we took it to all the Rotary clubs, let members climb in and turn on the siren," Warren said. "The nice thing was that all the Rotarians got to see it and care."
Ultimately, the fund-raisers did collect "right around" $26,000, with some Rotarians giving more than the $10 and some less, but, said Warren, "Our average was right where it needed to be."
But the best part was still to come -- delivering the vehicle to New York.
George Windate, District 6650 governor, and his wife, Sally, had the honor of driving the police car, resplendent with two specially designed shields painted on the doors -- "Northeastern Ohio Rotary Clubs' gift to NYPD" -- and specialty license plates reading "4 NYPD."
Warren and his wife, Sieglinde, came along in their own car. "I'd look in the rearview mirror and 40 or 50 trucks would be behind George," Warren said. "No one would pass them in the police car! They wouldn't go over 50!"
At the rest stops, people came over to talk and ask about the shields and the car.
The Warrens and Windates made the trip to Times Square in time to make a presentation to a Rotary district conference. They left their gift parked in front of the conference hotel at Broadway and 49th Street.
"We arrived midmorning and a session had started," Warren said. He was surprised when they were invited in anyway, and even more surprised when the meeting was stopped, their arrival announced, and a standing ovation followed.
"We kind of thought they'd appreciate it and then move on," Warren said. "But that happened at every session whether it had anything to do with us or not."
"That district has donated $1.2 million to deal with disaster relief," Warren said of their hosts. "But the fact that [our gift] was tangible and we delivered it touched them. We saw a side of New York City that was probably always there, but we hadn't seen."
To Warren, the typical busy, fast-track New Yorker -- "always seeming to be hurrying somewhere" -- was responding to the notion that they "weren't in this thing alone."
Parked outside, the cruiser drew the attention of several new recruits -- men and women who had been hired to replace fallen officers. "'What's this?' they'd ask and we'd say, 'It's our gift,'" Warren said. "'You giving us this? Hey, come over here and see what these guys are giving us.' Then they'd get their buddies to come over and comment on the car. 'This is equipped just the way we need it.'"
It was particularly touching for Warren. On Sept. 11, his wife was airborne, returning from Europe. Sieglinde's flight was redirected after the hijackings, to Newfoundland, where the warmth and care of strangers overwhelmed the Warrens. Delivering the car felt like a favor in kind.