Heather Traynor, who grew up in Brooklyn, began spending summers in Long Beach in 1987, when her parents bought a home in the city.
Thirteen years later, Traynor was living in Queens, and visited Long Beach on a Friday night. She ended up at the Saloon, on West Beech Street, and met a guy named Danny Ward, from Inwood. Traynor didn’t make it back home to Queens until the following Monday.
“It was a really fun, wild weekend,” said Heather, whose last name is now Ward. “I didn’t know Friday night, but I knew Saturday that I was going to spend the rest of my life with him. It was instant.”
Danny was a New York City police officer, serving in the 2-6 Precinct in Harlem. After he met Traynor, he began saving up his vacation days so he could take the entire month of August off and spend it with her.
His first day back at work in September 2001 was Tuesday, the 11th.
Heather remembers looking at the television as she was about to get into the shower that morning. She saw that a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. When she was getting out of the shower, a second plane had hit the south tower.
Danny said he needed to go to work immediately. Heather pleaded with him, trying to get him to stay home, but he said he had to go.
For the next six months, Danny did 12-hour overnight shifts six days a week, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., at what was first known simply as the pile but soon became known as ground zero.
In 2005, he retired. He and Heather married in 2007, she moved in with him in Long Beach, and the following year they had a son, Andrew.
Then 2016 happened.
“He started to have breathing issues,” Heather said of Danny. “He went to the family doctor, and the doctor noticed a change in his breathing. Afterward, he wasn’t great about following up with his health.”
Danny put up with his breathing problems for four years. In February 2020, just before the pandemic hit, his wife and their son were planning to visit her parents in Jupiter, Florida. Danny wasn’t feeling great, but told them to go on the trip.
They arrived in Jupiter on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. Heather lost contact with Danny on Feb. 16. The following day, she asked a friend to go into their house to check on Danny. He was in bed, and had died.
“We flew home,” Ward recounted, “and had to start living in our new normal.”
Shortly after Danny died, one of his former NYPD colleagues, Jesse Murphy, reached out to Heather and suggested that she and Andrew join an organization called Tuesday’s Children. Since Danny was a first responder at ground zero, Murphy said, the group could really help them.
Tuesday’s Children is a nonprofit based in Manhasset, founded after 9/11 with the purpose of providing a lifetime of healing for families that have been forever changed by terrorism, military conflict or mass violence. It offers family and adult programs, career resources, community service and youth mentoring.
“They do a mentoring program, and we thought a mentoring program would be great for Andrew,” Heather said. “And honestly, through all of our loss, Tuesday’s Children has been the one constant in our lives since we lost Danny.”
The first event the Wards did with the organization was a virtual 5K walk, in 2020. They walked through Long Beach with friends from Tuesday’s Children who walked in other towns. The Wards have been hosted at Citi Field on Father’s Day, and have rung the bell at the Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square. Andrew has also gotten to know a mentor named Jim, whom he met through Tuesday’s Children.
“Jim’s just a guy from Long Island,” Heather said. “He’s got a great sense of humor, and he really knows how to work with and really relates to Andrew. He lost his brother in the towers that day. Andrew was at tricky age when it happened — he was 11. It was tricky; he didn’t want to do things. But when Jim calls, it’s not a fight.”
Danny and Andrew were extremely close, and had a special bond. When his father died, Andrew was devastated, his mother said. He didn’t talk much, and seldom smiled. Now, thanks to Jim and Tuesday’s Children, Andrew laughs again.
They meet once or twice a month, and spend four to six hours together. They chat, and build flower boxes and birdhouses for Heather. She now has two huge flowerboxes.
If it weren’t for Tuesday’s Children, “I don’t think he’d be recovered as well,” Heather said. “For a boy to lose his dad, it’s just not a good thing. Having Jim twice a month, just to come and hang out with him, it’s a blessing. I don’t think that Andrew would be thriving as well as he is without them, and that’s the honest truth.”