Leigh Gardella-Wood and her family moved to a property in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, in 2011, a quaint piece of land that had belonged to Spring Bluff Elementary School until it closed that year. Eager to preserve the original feel, the family decided to keep the old school sign and a small memorial dedicated to “those who serve” and those who had lost their lives in the September 11 terror attacks.
The boulder, no larger than a headstone, bore the words “We Shall Never Forget” and listed the names of the memorial’s donors.
Years later, Gardella-Wood received an unexpected letter from Winthrop Harbor city officials, demanding that she remove the “obsolete” memorial or face a daily fine of up to $500. The officials gave her 14 days to comply or face a fine for each day of noncompliance. The letter left her scrambling for ideas to save the memorial, which she believed was necessary to honor veterans and provide a place for people to reflect or find solace.
Determined to fight back, Gardella-Wood rallied supportive veterans and went to the local media, quickly gaining the attention of the entire community and city officials.
Within days, the backlash against the city was so intense that Mayor Dr. Michael A. Bruno publicly apologized to Gardella-Wood and assured her that she could keep the memorial without any fines. He explained that since the memorial continued to serve as an active 9/11 tribute, it was not considered obsolete under the village sign code ordinance.
Relieved by the mayor’s intervention, Gardella-Wood stated that the memorial should never have been questioned in the first place. She emphasized the importance of honoring those who lost their lives or loved ones on that tragic day and pledged to maintain the display for as long as possible.
This victory comes after a protracted struggle with city officials, who had been trying to remove the memorial from her property for over a year. Now, Gardella-Wood and the community are celebrating their triumph against the city. The display will remain in her yard, allowing those who wish to honor the fallen of 9/11 to visit the memorial whenever they please.
The story serves as a stark reminder of government officials sometimes overstepping their boundaries and intruding on the private lives of citizens they are meant to serve. It is a tale of resilience and determination, as one woman fought for her right to honor the memories of those who gave their lives for their country.