During one of the hottest weeks this summer, rather than lounge in an air-conditioned home, 79-year-old Louie Weinhandl chose to toil in the sun.
As a retired masonry worker, Weinhandl dug out his tools, put on a baseball cap, and drove his black Volkswagen Beetle over to the Lisbon Town Hall. This is where he endured 100-degree heat for a week to get his hands dirty laying decorative stone at the new 9/11 memorial.
“I spent most of my time here,” Weinhandl said. “I worked here for 130 hours. I had 119 hours doing all of the wall’s stone work, and the rest was spent laying the stone on top.”
The Lisbon memorial for the terrorist attacks has been in the works for over a year now, with Weinhandl’s work cutting it close to the Sept. 11 unveiling at Lisbon Town Hall Park. The town submitted an application to a New York committee last August to get an artifact from one of the fallen towers, and on March 28, a 5-foot steel I-beam sat at the Richard Jung Fire Station’s front door. It’ll be a part of an enormous memorial at Lisbon Town Hall Park, being unveiled at noon on Sunday.
“The two towers are coming in next week, and the beam will be sent over and set up,” said John Greitn, Lisbon’s assistant director of public works. “Then we have to set up the bleachers and the tents for the ceremony on September 11. Everyone should come on out here and see it!”
While everyone is no doubt excited for the memorial, Weinhandl has another reason why he volunteered. Born in Slovenia in 1932 and sent to a concentration camp at age 13, bearing the 100-degree heat for this specific memorial was no question.
“When I was growing up, there were bombs falling all the time,” said Weinhandl. “I volunteered for a reason. I did it for the American people so they never forget.”
With a twinge in his voice, the small German man recounted the horrors of the night he was taken from his home. In 1945, his mother and seven siblings were greeted at the door by communist soldiers. His mother had 10 minutes to pack everything she could while Weinhandl and his siblings were being thrown into the back of a truck.
He was kept in the concentration camp for five months before he was released, for what reason he cannot remember.
“It was awful,” Weinhandl said. “I never did forgive that country for that. We were innocent. I was 13 years old, and all but one of my siblings were younger than me. One of my brothers was 2 years old. What did he do to the country?”
After being released, Weinhandl moved to Austria, and then in 1952, he moved to Racine, WI through a work program. This is where he began a string of odd jobs that eventually led him to an apprenticeship in masonry work.
Although he retired in 1996, finding him relaxing is near impossible. Along with volunteering to help the Town of Lisbon with its memorial project, Weinhandl says he’s practically busy every day helping his “fellas” in the area.
“When I drive to work, sometimes I see some old man sitting by the garage early in the morning and sleeping,” Weinhandl said as he slouches over to mimic an old man, “I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to die in a hospital. I want to die in a bricklayer’s scaffold.”
Weinhandl’s work on the memorial brought the town one step closer to its fundraising goal. It’s estimated the cost of the project is about $100,000. While the Town Board approved $3,000 for startup costs, they’re hoping to raise $50,000 in donated labor and the rest in cash.
“We’re sitting on about $90,000,” Greiten said. “We have about $60,000 that has been donated to us by means of labor, help and supplies. Then we raised about $30,000 more in cash donations. Fundraising is still going on for bricks. They’re still coming in, and after 9/11 we’ll still sell more bricks.”
The unveiling and dedication of the completed memorial will be at noon Sunday at Lisbon Town Hall Park, W234 N8676 Woodside Road. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is the keynote speaker. The ceremony is on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001.