Janet Bohlander Alonso graduated from Tappan Zee High school in 1978. A deeply spiritual woman with a beautiful smile and bright blue eyes, she radiated an inner beauty that enhanced her classic features and gentle ways.
Gifted with a lovely voice, she thrilled the congregation at Tomkins Memorial Church with her singing. The love of her life was her husband and her two children, Victoria, 3, and Robert Jr, 20 months, who was born with Down Syndrome.
"I met my wife in '83 at Lederle Laboratories where we worked together." Robert relates.
"The minute I saw her, I wanted to take her out. She wasn't so sure about me at first. Janet's family was very religiously orientated. She was raised to view life in a positive way, always reaching out to help children, stray animals, homeless people, anyone who needed help. I admired Janet for those qualities. She taught me so much."
Robert and Janet were married May 16, 1989, ten years before they had their first child, Victoria, on January 6, 1999. To their delight, Robbie was conceived less than a year after Victoria's birth and was born on April 9, 2000. Janet's family was her life. She took a leave of absence to stay home with her handicapped son and had just returned to work shortly before the day of the disaster.
"She worked hard for what we have," Robert relates. "Janet went back to school in her mid-thirties to get her degree and better herself on the job. When she graduated from Dominican College, she was pregnant with our first child. Going to college, keeping house, working full time, and becoming a mother was very difficult. I don't think I could have done it. But she did it. When Janet wanted to accomplish something, she planned it out and gave it all she had."
Janet attended the weekend and evening classes at Dominican. Dr. Janet Pansini, a faculty member, remembers Janet as "a good, hard working and very dedicated student who loved Dominican and valued her education. She had an unbelievable sense of humor." Guy Adamo, adjunct professor, remembers her as " a really wonderful person and an outstanding student who always contributed and participated in a positive way." Another professor wrote, "Janet lit up the classroom with her beauty, but it was her inner sparkle and warmth that drew you to her. She was in a class of her own." Janet graduated Dominican in 1998.
Janet had problems conceiving a child. She wanted desperately to have children, so she started going to a fertility specialist while she was attending college. For a long time nothing happened. Rather than put a strain on her marriage, Janet decided that if God did not want her to have children, she would accept His decision. Soon after that, she became pregnant with Victoria.
The family was ecstatic when she became pregnant again. Janet had a cesarean birth. When her son was delivered, the doctor took Robert aside to tell him that the baby showed signs of Down Syndrome. Janet heard the news while she was still on the operating table. Understandably upset, she began to cry. Robert told her, "Don't worry, honey. Everything will be all right. I was very worried about her, but the next day when I went to see Janet, she was on the phone investigating every aspect of Down Syndrome. She was determined to learn everything there was to know to help Robbie have every advantage growing up. That was the kind of person she was."
Margaret Alonso, Robert's mother, remembers Janet through her tears as a person that was "a great daughter-in-law and really on the ball. I baby-sat for her three days a week so she could go to her job in New York. Janet really appreciated it, but she was happy that Robbie would be going to nursery school full time in January so I could have some free time. I didn't work out that way." A very close family, Margaret,70, has been with Robert every day since September 11 and plans to continue to help as long as "this little family needs me." Her sister, Alice Vasquez, helps out too.
"Margaret gets up a five A.M. to cook nutritious meals for Robert and the children every day," Alice said. " My sister and I knew how much Janet wanted children. We prayed everyday at the Don Bosco Shrine for a miracle. Now these children have no mother. We have done everything in our power to fill the void, but for a long time we could see the pain in Victoria's eyes when her mother did not come home at night. For days, little Robbie's sad eyes searched every face looking for her. It was heartbreaking."
Robert was overwhelmed at the outpouring of love for Janet after the disaster. He received calls and faxes from her colleagues around the world. At Christmas, delivery trucks pulled in all day with flowers, toys for the children, and baskets of food. "It was unbelievable." A tree was sent in Janet's memory. Robert planted it outside the kitchen window and hung lights on it for Christmas. Victoria calls it Mommy's tree. Every night she says, "Daddy, light Mommy's tree." Robert plans to turn the lights on the tree every evening throughout the year to keep his children close to the memory of their mother.
The children in Garnerville have been especially caring. They have held lemonade and cupcake sales and brought the money to Robert for Janet's children. The students in North Garnerville Elementary School raised two thousand, six hundred dollars for the children in a Read-a-Thon and presented the money and a plaque entitled, "The Many Hearts Together Certificate" to the Alonsos. Inscribed on the plaque is "To remind you that you will always be part of our North Garnerville community and in our hearts forever. In honor of your loving wife and mother, Janet Alonso." Robert is especially surprised and touched by these gifts from the children.
Ellen Barbera, a Garnerville resident and lifetime friend of Robert Alonso, is not surprised by the outpouring of love from the community. "Janet and Robert were always involved with community projects, especially those involving the children. Robert has been sending pizza's from the pizza parlor his family runs to the school children as a reward for Read-A-Thons and sporting events for years. The children are encouraged to feel safe in Patricia's Pizza Parlor and to feel free to go there if they need to use the phone or are in trouble."
Robert is now a full-time caregiver for the children with the help of his family and Janet's sister, Cheryl Russo. The family is taking one day at a time and moving forward with their lives. Robert feels blessed with his children, but says, "My heart aches for my children and the other children of 9/11. They got a raw deal. I plan to do everything in my power to raise our children and educate them the way Janet would have wanted them to be raised. More than anything, Janet wanted her children to get a good education, and I am going to see to that."
Janet and Robert Alonso's story is one of the thousands of stories of the victims of 9/11 who have lost their lives and whose families are struggling to rebuild a future. Out of the devastation comes the realization that the true heroes of this world are not the glitzy celebrities that grace the glossy pages of our magazines, but the unsung heroes and heroines who work everyday to build a better life for their families and our society. They must not be forgotten. Their lives should serve as role models for our future generations.
We will never know what Janet Alonso's last thoughts were on that fateful day. Given her deep abiding faith and her love for her family, her last words may have been what every mother prays for, "Dear Lord, please take care of my children."
by Natalie Pieterse from Clever Magazine. Reprinted with the permission of Clever Magazine.