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The "Lineholders": The former executive director of the Denver Federal Executive Board shares a little known story about one community's outreach to another--Denver to Oklahoma City. (Image).

On April 19, 1995 at precisely 9:02 A.M., a bomb detonated in Oklahoma City that changed America forever. First came the shock that such an act could happen in the US. One hundred and sixty-eight were killed, including 19 children. Then came the realization that an American, one of our own was responsible.

It was an attack against government--nameless and faceless. But government was not nameless, nor faceless. Government was women and men committed to public service--our colleagues and their families. Timothy McVeigh was arrested and brought to trial in Denver. While you are probably familiar with what happened in Oklahoma, you are probably not aware of this part of the story. It is the tale of one community's outreach to another--Denver to Oklahoma City.

In order to accommodate the media, others pertinent to the trial and the general public, a decision was made to limit the number of reserved seats for the representatives of the victims and their families to 12. However, Oklahoma City counselors working with the representatives had determined that they needed to have individual sponsors. The challenge then was how to obtain seating in the courtroom for the 12 sponsors.

Colorado Oklahoma Resource Council

To meet more effectively the needs of the Oklahoma City representatives, Denver had created the Colorado Oklahoma Resource Council (CORC) that was staffed with volunteers. CORC also set up a "safe haven" where the guests from Oklahoma City could go to relax out of the limelight, get something to eat, and get the answers to questions on lodging, food, transportation, health needs, and counseling. The council became the coordinator for the "lineholders" project.

Lineholders

Volunteers were recruited to stand in line outside the courthouse before going to work (6:15 to 8:30 a.m.) to ensure the 12 Oklahoma City sponsors would have seats. Each received a yellow "ribbon of hope" that officially identified them as lineholders.

As other general spectators came to observe the trial, news of the lineholders project spread. If for some reason there was a shortage of lineholders or seats were unavailable, community spectators would give their seats to the sponsors. Because interest in the trial was building, line time moved back to 5:15 a.m., then 4:00 a.m., and at the end 3:00 a.m. Over the course of the trial, more than 100 volunteers assisted in this project.

These acts of kindness created a bond and had an impact on both the lineholders and the guests from Oklahoma City--victims and family members that had chosen to actually live in Denver during the trial, the representatives, their families, and the sponsors.

When the death penalty was announced, the streets became lined with people showing Denver's support to the guests from Oklahoma City. The guests heard the verdict in silence mixed with numbness, sadness, revenge, and jubilation--all at the same time. There was also the bitter realization that this decision would never bring back loved ones lost. The trial had lasted 35 days, but in many ways, it was a lifetime.

For those who had personally worked with the victims and families, it is still difficult six years later to talk of the experience without becoming emotional and shedding a tear for the pain that was endured, because they, or someone in their family, had chosen to serve through public service.

In his new book, The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory, (1) Edward Lurenthal quotes the following poem written by a high school student, Melinda Whicher. She lost her father, Secret Service Agent Alan Whicher.

And I discover a dark and lonely place

Where no person should have to go

And I claw my way out as best I can.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

The Oklahoma City National Memorial is now open on the site where the Murrah Federal Building stood. The view is one of empty chairs, each representing someone who had died. They are in rows, representing the floors of the building, but placed where the victim was standing hen the bomb was detonated. As you enter the gates to the memorial, the following words are inscribed above the wall:

We come here to remember those who were killed.

Those who survived and those changed forever.

May all who leave here know the impact of violence.

May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.

We came here to remember, now we will never forget.

NOTE

(1.) Oxford University Press, September 2001. See http://www.govexec.com/, August 30, 2001

Lea Chapan is a retired career federal employee and the former executive director of the Denver Federal Executive Board. She was a lineholder.
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Article Details
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Author:Chapan, Lea
Publication:The Public Manager
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Words:777
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