The Seaford 9/11 Memorial Committee was created to remember — and mourn — the five local victims of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, keeping their memory alive year-round.
One way to do this was for the committee to name Honorary Patriots each year, and this year Joe Mottola, Elaine Tamsen and Nicola Bilotta were singled out for their noble work in the community. The committee’s slogan remains, “Service builds character, make it your commitment.”
Five Seaford High School alumni perished in the 9/11 attacks. Timothy Haskell (class of 1985) and his brother, Thomas (1982), both served in the New York City Fire Department. Robert Sliwak (1977) and Michael Wittenstein (1985) worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, and John William Perry (1982) was a New York City police officer.
“After 9/11, a lot of people were very angry,” Tom Condon, who became the memorial committee’s chairman, said. “That was in the news every day — turmoil, unrest, anger. But when I met with all of the families together, they said that they wanted to do something positive to remember their sons — not out of anger, not about retaliating, something positive.”
Condon, who worked in Seaford schools for 48 years as a social studies teacher, administrator, coach and guidance counselor before retiring in 2017, knew all five of the alumni.
As a way to remember the victims, Condon and Ken Haskell, brother of Thomas and Timothy, decided to create a scholarship that Seaford High School students could earn in their senior year. Working with the PTA, the memorial committee each year selects five students — matching the number of Seaford alumni lost on Sept. 11 — for the scholarship, which became known as the Patriot Award.
The committee raises scholarship money from donations within the Seaford community, and five students have been honored annually since 2002 in a dinner that draws hundreds of Seaford residents.
Condon and the committee then decided to take it a step further. In addition to presenting students with scholarships, the memorial committee singles out up to three upstanding members of the Seaford community — not necessarily residents — as Honorary Patriots.
While the Patriot Award recipients have yet to be named this year, the 2023 Honorary Patriots — Tamsen, Bilotta and Mottola — were recently selected.
Tamsen, who practices law in Bellmore, has been a Seaford resident since 1984. One of Tamsen’s passions is doing volunteer work for veterans in Seaford.
Tamsen’s son, Dustin, was a recipient of the Patriot Award in 2003, and she has been a friend of the committee ever since. Condon and the committee had to convince Tamsen to even accept the award, which Condon said indicates how much she truly deserves it.
“I’m not looking for money or recognition,” Tamsen said. “I’m just doing what I can to help people wherever I can. But I’m incredibly humbled that my name was even raised. It’s important to me that no one forgets what happened at that time. And people were different after the attacks. People who live outside of New York cannot understand, but we came together like none of us had ever seen.”
Condon coached Mottola, a 1981 graduate of Seaford High School, and as a result, Mottola knew the Haskells and Perry, since they played football together.
Mottola, who moved to Seaford in the ninth grade, left for Massapequa in 1991 but has remained active in his hometown. Before moving, he had served 10 years in the Seaford Fire Department and is continuing that service in Massapequa.
“I’ve been to a lot of events honoring firefighters and good citizens,” Mottola said. “The Patriot Award dinner is the best of them all. It has the most meaning. Last year, I said to my wife that I would be thrilled to just be considered for the Honorary Patriot Award. Getting that call from Coach Condon a year later, I couldn’t believe it. To be honored in the spirit of those men who made the ultimate sacrifice is just incredible.”
Bilotta, an East Rockaway resident, owns Final Touch Auto Collision on Merrick Road in Seaford. Bilotta praised Seaford’s ability to cultivate a sense of community through its clubs and organizations.
He vividly recalled the tragic events of 9/11. “I was in middle school on 9/11,” Bilotta said. “We were going outside for recess, but the teachers said the air might not be safe for us, so we went back inside. I got home, and I remember my mother crying as she was making dinner.”
Since he moved to Seaford in 2014, Bilotta said he did not personally know any of the Seaford High School alumni lost on that day. But he has come to appreciate the way the committee keeps their memory alive.
“They take a day that was horrible and dark, and turn it into something amazing,” Bilotta said. “The community loves the award dinner. It’s something everyone looks forward to every year.”