Prayer books honor Sept. 11 victim


April 24, 2002|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SEVEN MONTHS have passed since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, and the wounds are still fresh for families across the country and in our community.

Members of Congregation Ahavas Israel want to make sure that the memory of Lt. Darin Pontell, 26, a naval intelligence officer who died in the attack on the Pentagon, will endure. So the congregation donated a new set of prayer books to the synagogue; each book contains a bookplate with an inscription dedicated to Pontell's memory. The books were dedicated at a memorial service for Pontell held Sunday at the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education.

"I didn't know him personally, but people in our congregation very much identified with Lieutenant Pontell," said Rabbi Hillel Baron. "After Sept. 11, pictures published in local papers showed him dressed in a naval uniform, but wearing a yarmulke. Here was a man who was proud and dedicated to his country and also to his people, the Jewish people."

Darin's parents, Gary and Marilyn Pontell, live a few blocks from the Lubavitch Center and have made contributions to the congregation over the years. Darin's death was the second great loss the Pontell family has suffered.

In 1989, Steve Pontell, Darin's oldest brother and an ensign in the Navy, was killed while attempting to land a jet on the USS Lexington near Pensacola, Fla. He was 23 years old. Steve and Darin's brother, Michael, 34, is a computer design specialist for the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

"You think, Oh, my goodness, how do you survive? But you do," Marilyn Pontell said. "I can't even let it all in; I probably would disintegrate. I just go on. You have support from family and faith, and take it one day at a time and you pray that it doesn't happen to someone else."

She said that for years after Steve's death, Darin was angry and wanted nothing to do with the Navy. But around his junior year in high school, his perspective changed. "He wanted to continue to carry on what his brother had started," she said. "But he knew he didn't want to be a pilot. I honestly think he knew it would be too hard for us. We'd be fearful every day."

Darin graduated with honors from the Naval Academy in 1998. He served six months aboard the USS Eisenhower before receiving his assignment to the Pentagon.

"Could we have thought that he was in a safer place than the Pentagon? We were thrilled that he was stationed there," Marilyn Pontell said.

On March 18, 2001, Darin married Devora Wolk at Shaare Tefila synagogue in Silver Spring. Devora Wolk Pontell is an assistant state's attorney in Howard County. The couple shared a home in Gaithersburg.

Devora Wolk Pontell said she was grateful for the congregation's donation of prayer books in her husband's memory. "It seems that people have forgotten about the lives lost [on Sept. 11]. Flags have come down. People still talk about [Osama] Bin Laden and the situation, but they have forgotten that we have lost people in our own community," she said.

"The outpouring from the community makes me feel so good," Marilyn Pontell said. "I feel honored that they're remembering Darin in a way that he will continue to be remembered every week as people use the prayer books."

`Topping out'

On Thursday, Howard Community College held a "topping out" ceremony for its new instructional laboratory building. HCC faculty, staff members and students gathered to see an evergreen tree hoisted to the top of the building, a practice customary in the construction industry when the steel and concrete work on a building are completed.

Randy Bengfort, director of public relations and marketing at the college, said the ceremony stems from ancient times when it was believed that trees were inhabited by gods who might be disturbed when their homes were used to build human habitats. Early builders placed branches on top of new structures in hope that no harm would come to the building or its inhabitants.

A time capsule was placed in the building's foundation and contains a schedule of classes offered at the college, photos of the groundbreaking ceremony and a book signed by faculty, staff, students and members of HCC's board of trustees. The time capsule is to be opened in 50 years.

Children's author

Steven Kellogg, creator of more than 100 books for children, visited Clemens Crossing Elementary School yesterday. He made a presentation to the pupils and autographed copies of his books.

Kellogg's visit was funded by a patron of the arts program started by media specialist Tom Brzezinski and the school's PTA.

"One of my dreams has been to get noted authors to come to the school," Brzezinski said. "Kellogg is the gentleman I've been trying to get for two years now. One of his biggest gifts to children's literature is his illustrated tall-tales books."

Brzezinski said the patron of the arts program received donations from 42 families to bring Kellogg to the school.

Word games

Longfellow resident Bob Russell will offer a workshop on word games, puzzles and mind teasers at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the central library, 10375 Little Patuxent Parkway.

Russell has been creating puzzles since he was age 10, and his puzzles have appeared in Columbia magazine and St. Louis magazine. He will teach how to create puzzles and will share his favorite Internet sources for puzzle aficionados.

Information and registration: 410-313-7860.

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