Garden City was hit hard on 9/11, losing 23 residents.
Many of the victims were young and full of promise like Paul Eckna, a 28-year-old bond broker at Cantor Fitzgerald.
Eckna, who was raised in Garden City, embraced all that the village had to offer. Garden City is where he spent his formative years, developed a love of football and where he made a core group of friends who are making sure his memory lives on.
Eckna’s brother, Steve, and his friend, Chris Sarkis, founded the Paul R. Eckna Memorial Foundation to provide funds to assist children’s charities. Initially developed as a scholarship to help a graduating Garden City High School senior and provide funds to Garden City youth organizations, the foundation has branched out to other needy youth charities as well.
The foundation is a fitting tribute to Eckna who had a special connection with kids. As a college student, Eckna ran the youth program at Tullamore Park and made a lasting impression on many of the young boys who spent their days there.
“Paul loved kids,” recalled Sarkis. “And kids loved Paul. He was an imposing figure, at 6 feet, 3 inches and 270 pounds yet kids gravitated to him.”
The foundation has earned more than $100,000 and has made donations that would surely make Eckna smile, including dedicating a new football scoreboard at Stewart field. Funds are raised via a yearly golf outing.
Football is where it all started for Eckna and Sarkis. They met when they were eight-years-old playing football for the Garden City Rams now known as Thunder football. Eckna went on to play football for Garden City High School’s Trojans and wore number 77. He also played in college for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
To honor Eckna, number 77 is assigned by the varsity football team to a student who demonstrates many of the attributes Eckna was known for, such as team spirit.
The foundation has also supported Long Island Jewish Hospital’s Monsters Kid’s charity; provided iPods to Hemlock school; donated to "Matthew’s Journey," a charity dedicated to helping a local boy who is suffering from Perthes disease and donated funds to help a student from Hempstead get a new start at St. Thomas More School.
Eckna’s brother, Steve, credits the success of the foundation to the wide group of friends his brother amassed.
“We had decided when we started the foundation that we wouldn’t knock on doors and solicit funds,” said Steve Eckna. “We wanted it to grow organically and it has. We are looking forward to granting new awards.”
Embarking on the tenth anniversary this year Sarkis reflected that it still feels new to him.
“I don’t think it will ever become old to me, and I don’t think I will ever get used to the feeling of not having him around,” shared Sarkis. “Paul was a great person…his generosity, humor and overall view on how people should be treated always sticks with me.”
As time passes on many of Eckna’s friends and family members have started their own families.
“For me and my family it’s always a bit hard because I know the smiles, laughs and fun my children missed,” said Sarkis.
A decade may have passed but Eckna has left an indelible mark in his hometown. The foundation in his memory is going strong and his stories are being passed on especially to a young boy named Christopher Paul Sarkis - whose middle name honors his Dad’s best friend.
“I like to think he has a lot of Paul in his personality,” said Sarkis. “He makes me laugh, cheers me up when I take the little things too seriously, and more importantly I like watching him make other people smile…I feel like I’m getting a little dose of Paul.”
For further information regarding the Paul Eckna Foundation contact email@example.com. The next outing/dinner/cocktail party will be held Sept. 29 at the Cherry Valley Club. Dinner tickets and tee sponsors are still available.