EHS grad will sing at 9/11 ceremonyFormer flight attendant recalls the chaos of 2001

By on September 7, 2011

By: MARC ANTHONY Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Peggy Kurtz Keller is one of those people who can turn a cloudy day on its heels simply by wishing you a good morning.

The Ephrata native and 2011 PA State Senior Idol winner has been singing from the time she was old enough to carry a tune. And she will be bringing her talents to Clipper Magazine Stadium this coming Sunday, Sept. 11 in an event honoring all those lost in the 9/11 attacks.

"Never Forget 9-11 … The Spirit of America" is a free event scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. with a Fallen Firefighters National Stair Climb in which local firefighters will walk 110 flights in full gear to honor the victims. Military bands, keynote speakers and video tributes are just a few of the featured activities that will run throughout the day.

Officials from Clipper Magazine Stadium worked together with Fred F. Groff Funeral Home to bring this commemorative event to the public. During the planning stages, Christine Seibert of Fred Groff contacted Online Publishers (a Senior Idol sponsor) in the hopes Keller might sing the National Anthem.

"I’ve sung the National Anthem at Clipper Magazine before, so I was familiar with them. I was really honored to be a part of something so symbolic and powerful." Keller said.

After kicking things off, Keller will perform a set of patriotic songs later in the morning. The proceedings will come to a close with a flag presentation by the Red Rose Veterans Honor Guard in which families of 9/11 victims as well as of the war in Afghanistan that followed will receive American flags.

Keller’s impressive reputation preceded her scoring such an esteemed place this Sunday. She took home the 2011 PA State Senior Idol crown this past summer. Senior Idol is a talent competition open to all Pennsylvanians over the age of 50.

"I wanted to sign up when I was 49, but I had to wait," she laughed.

It was her fourth crack at the title, and as with her previous three attempts, she says the experience was the greatest reward of all.

"I’ve been involved with this event for the past four years, and the talent always amazes me, it is unbelievable," she said. "As a contestant, there is so much to cover and not a lot of time with which to do it. But the connections we have formed over the years go a long way. We’re all very supportive of one another."

With the day-to-day lives of the contestants taking up most of their daily planners, Keller said they would meet on Sundays to hash out details and practice.

"There isn’t a whole lot of time with which to rehearse," she pointed out.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Peggy considered the idea of stepping on a plane to be a challenge. At the time of the September 11 attacks, she was working as a flight attendant for U.S. Airways. Up to then, her biggest concern had been the commute from her home in Reamstown to Philadelphia International, which served as her home base.

"I was running errands that Tuesday since it was my off day," she recalled. "I had a hair appointment, and when I walked in my beautician came up and hugged me. I had no idea what was going on."

Of all the stories to come out of that horrible day, perhaps the most wrenching were the phone calls made to friends and family members who would never make it home. Peggy remembers leaving the hair salon that morning and turning on her phone to discover a slew of frantic phone messages from concerned love ones wanting to know if she had been called into work that morning. The parallel still sends shivers up her spine.

When she did report back to work days later, she was greeted by a scene of out of a science fiction novel.

"There were no planes in the sky, no people. All you saw were soldiers and military vehicles," she said. "It was so eerie."

The exhausting tug of doubt that came with all the questions as to what might happen next began to weigh on her.

"Everyone thinks being an airline attendant is a glamorous job, but in reality, we are there for safety," she explained.

After the attacks, there were a lot more questions than answers.

As fate would have it, U.S. Airways furloughed her job the following winter. With so many people hesitant to fly, the financial hit forced many of the airlines to offer such packages to their employees. Her last day was Dec. 2, 2001. That furlough would serve as a conduit to pursuing her dream by going back to school and getting her degree in nursing. When the airlines called back a few years later asking if she was interested in coming back to work, her transition was already complete.

"I figured there were plenty of kids out there who really needed that job," she said. "I looked at it as I would be taking a job away from them."

Leaving the skies behind, she kept her wings handy. These days, aside from fulfilling her most important role as wife and mother, she teaches medical assisting to adult students, and in her not so spare time gives voice lessons and performs at various area functions.

This Sept. 11, Keller will step up to the plate and deliver those vocal talents in her unique home run style, 10 years removed from a time and a place that still feels very much like yesterday to anyone who experienced it. More KELLER, page A6

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