Watseka and the Watseka Park District will host the first ever Step, Stand, Salute “Character Still Counts” event next weekend.

The event, Friday through Sunday (Oct. 18-20), will focus on the Tunnel to Towers Foundation 9/11 Never Forget mobile exhibit that pays tribute to those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, including the 343 members of the New York Fire Department who made the ultimate sacrifice saving and protecting others.

“We are hoping that people remember that it is important to Step up to the challenges that we are thrown, to stand tall for the wonderful things that the United States offers each of us and to Salute the values that so many fought for us to have. We want everyone to remember that “Character Still Counts”,” said Sherry Johnson, Watseka Park District executive director. She noted that the bringing the exhibit to Watseka was an idea of several people who then formed a committee to plan the event.

The 53-foot Tunnel to Towers tractor-trailer transforms into a 1,000-square-foot exhibit to further educate citizens about the events of that day. The exhibit includes interactive education including steel beams from the towers and other 9/11 artifacts, documentary videos and recordings of first responder radio transmissions and guided tours from NYFD heroes.

“We are looking forward to lots of people coming to Watseka and going through this free exhibit,” said Johnson. “We are looking forward to seeing patriotism and feeling the pride that goes with seeing the flag and being a part of this painful part of our history that we have rebounded from so well. We are also looking forward to people remembering those that lost their lives and those that continue to serve as first responders.”

The Tunnel to Towers exhibit will be stationed in the First Trust and Savings Bank parking lot on U.S. Route 24 in Watseka. It will be open to students and teachers Friday. It will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

There will be speakers and a tribute to fire, police and EMS personnel at the exhibit sight.

Saturday will also feature a variety of vendors at the Watseka Park District building. Children are encouraged to dress as their favorite hero – firefighters, police, EMS – and participate in the children’s costume contest with registration at 4 p.m. and judging to follow. A pet parade will also take place with registration at 4 p.m.

A trunk-or-treat will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. along Cherry and Third streets.

Sunday’s events begin at 9 a.m. with a free will donation breakfast hosted by the Masonic Lodge and held at the Watseka Park District.

Sunday will feature a nondenominational church service at 10 a.m. in the tent in the First Trust parking lot. The theme will be God and Our Country. Natural High will perform during the service.

The Iroquois County Republican Women’s Group will host a reflection time of area firefighters and emergency personnel. Emergency vehicles will line up to remember fallen emergency personnel and to honor those still serving.

A closing ceremony for the Tunnel to Towers exhibit begins at 1 p.m.

“We have a beautiful closing ceremony planned with recognition of first responders and a tribute to 9/11, sponsored in part by the Iroquois County Republican Women’s Organization,” Johnson said.

In 2013, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation launched its 9/11 Never Forget mobile exhibit — a tribute to all those who lost their lives on 9/11. The exhibit, which has traveled to nearly all 50 states and Canada, has welcomed more than 350,000 people to-date.

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