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Ventura County | A YEAR LATER

Seniors to Plant Tree as Tribute to the Big Apple

Camarillo: Native New Yorkers at retirement community didn't intend their gatherings to be bittersweet, but attacks changed things.

September 11, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Compared to some of the memorials planned for the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, today's ceremony at Leisure Village will be a small affair.

There won't be a solemn reading of names of those who died on that horrible day a year ago. No heads of state will be in attendance. A pack of battle-ready F/A-18s won't buzz by in honor formation overhead.

But Milt Eisner, 82, will be there. So will Ben Perry, 84, Eisner's close friend and fellow native New Yorker. So will dozens of other Big Apple transplants and their friends, now living among the quiet, tree-lined streets of the Camarillo retirement community.

At 11 a.m., members of the New York Club will push shovels into a patch of grass behind the village's tennis courts and plant an oak tree to honor those killed a year ago and to pay tribute to the city they will always call home.

"We hope our children and grandchildren always remember what has happened," said Perry, who came up with the idea to plant the tree. "In the future, people will look at this tree and say, 'Yes, I remember 9/11.' "

For anyone from New York--regardless of where they were living 12 months ago--the terrorist attacks will be impossible to forget, say members of the club.

"I will always be a New Yorker," said Lynn Lazarus, 77, who grew up in Manhattan. "But I'm glad I don't have grandchildren. This is not a world I would want them to grow up in."

Such serious talk was not intended by Eisner and a couple dozen other Leisure Village residents when they started the club two years ago.

It was understood, said Lazarus and other club members, that talk of politics, religion and other weighty issues would be left at home.

Instead, the club was supposed to be a way for transplanted New Yorkers who retired and moved to the West to make new friends, play cards and share the memories of life growing up in the five boroughs.

"These were our formative years" when we lived in the Big Apple, Eisner said. "Our way of life is from New York, and it leaves a hell of an impression."

Some club members soon discovered they went to the same grade school, and in more than one case, had the same teacher. At their monthly meetings, they would share stories of subway rides, stickball games and who sold the best chocolate egg cream.

Even a romance was kindled. After Eisner's wife and Lazarus' husband died, the two fell in love and now live together in the village.

Then the terrorists attacked.

Residents of the retirement village "who didn't know New York from a hole in the wall" joined the club, said Fran Greenwald-Frank, a native of Brooklyn who moved with her family to California in 1979. Others started asking about membership, wondering whether they could join even if they had never set foot in New York.

One club member's son, a firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department, gave a slide presentation after he returned from working at ground zero in Lower Manhattan.

Club members walked door to door at the village with a fire boot collecting cash donations for the victims' families. They even made a patriotic-themed red, white and blue T-shirt with "The New York Club" written over a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

Membership swelled from less than 100 to more than 250 as sympathy grew for those from New York. Officials at the village said it has gone from being one of the smaller clubs at the huge complex to one of the biggest.

"As a group, we felt we needed to do something," said Posner, who moved from New York to Camarillo in 2000. "It was not only for New York. If something happened here, we would want to help."

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