The gesture could not match the sacrifice made by the man it was meant to honor.
But when the paper wrapping was pulled off the brand-new street sign in Maspeth Friday, it was still something. The stretch of 69th Lane where Fire Department Lt. Kenneth Phelan grew up would bear his name through history, reminding generations of neighbors how he had died in the rescue effort of Sept. 11, 2001.
"It is such a small, small way to thank these folks to gave their lives on 9/11," said City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), who sponsored the street renaming and presided over Friday afternoon's ceremony unveiling the sign. "Hopefully, our children will ask their parents who Lt. Kenneth Phelan was, and they'll be able to retell the story."
The stretch of 69th Lane between Eliot Avenue and 60th Avenue has been officially rechristened "Lieutenant Kenneth J. Phelan Way," a new name mounted beside the existing signs at the corner of 69th Lane and Eliot. A large contingent of firefighters came out for the dedication, standing in formation before a row of attached houses on a street corner that was already crowded with dozens of family, friends and public officials.
Phelan, a Maspeth native, followed in his father's footsteps when he joined the Fire Department in 1989 after serving as a police officer for eight years.
Phelan had been assigned to his father's company, Engine 217 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, for his last year of service in the Fire Department. But on Sept. 11, 2001, he had been filling in for another officer at Brooklyn's Engine 207 when he responded to the call at the Twin Towers.
But the first thing he did that morning was stop by his parents' house to chat with his father before heading out for the tour that would be his last.
"It's nice to have the street sign with Kenny's name on it. Kenny grew up on this block and his family also lived on this block," said his father, Daniel Phelan. "I hope the people that walk or drive on this street and look at that sign will think about the person that Kenny was."
Although Kenneth Phelan moved away from his parents' 69th Lane home once he had his own family, his wife Patricia and their four children returned to Phelan's childhood street after he died, moving into a house near the one where he grew up.
Phelan leaves behind daughters Kimberly, 18, and Erin, 15; and sons Daniel, 12, and Kenny, 8; as well as his wife, parents, four sisters and one brother.
Phelan attended the Our Lady of Hope Grammar School, Grover Cleveland High School and St. John's University. He started coaching youth basketball teams when he was 18 years old, a commitment honored in banners that hang in the gymnasium at Our Lady of Hope.
"He's touched so many lives as a coach and a sports mentor and a firefighter," City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) said at the ceremony.
But it was Phelan's youngest son and namesake, 8-year-old Kenny, who demonstrated the truest way his legacy endures - in his children. Kenny wrote a poem about his father that he asked his aunt, Mary Cox, to read at the dedication.
"I know you went to Heaven / You left me at seven," Kenny wrote to his father. "I know you can see / and will always be looking at me. I love you, Daddy."
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2003 Community News Group
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