Legacy of Chicago woman who died on top of North Tower lives on at Resurrection College Prep

September 11th Anniversary

CHICAGO — In the window display of the Cragin-Hanson Clothing shop on the Northwest Side, you’ll find the sun-bleached photo of Christine Olender, an image frozen in time.

WGN first met Stella and John Olender in October 2001, shortly after their daughter’s body was identified. Since then, the store has closed and both parents have passed away.

The location is now left to Alexandra Brzezinski, a close cousin of Christine’s.

“Any family events, we always spent together. I have a lot of cherished memories with her,” Brzezinski said.

Through childhood to high school graduations to Christmas, the two were inseparable. At 39 years old, Christine was the assistant manager to Windows of the World, the restaurant atop the North Tower.

On September 11, Christine called her mother, as she did daily, before reporting to work at 7 a.m.

“All of a sudden we see the news. We’re watching the news and we were in awe. We were crying the whole time we were watching the news. We couldn’t believe it was happening,” Brzezinski said.

For a week, they kept up hope, something that dwindled as each day had passed.

“As time went by, we knew that hope was disintegrating. It wasn’t there,” Brzezinski said.

Among the reminders of that day, the family obtained a chilling account of Christine’s last moments on the phone in a transcript released by the government. She was trying to help 75 guests and employees escape the top of the tower.

“We’re getting no direction up here. We’re having a smoke condition. We need directions to where we need to direct our guests and our employees as soon as possible. And so the police officer says, ‘OK, we’re doing our best, we’re trying to get up to you. Call back in two to three minutes,” Brzezinski said reading an excerpt from the harrowing transcript.

Minutes later, Christine’s calls ended.

In these past 20 years, all of Christine’s immediate family have passed away. Her older brother and sister, her mother and father. Cousins and friends keep her memory alive.

However, there’s also a place where Christine’s legacy lives on.

Christine spent her high school years at Resurrection College Prep, graduating in 1980. Her presence is still here. A plaque shows the names of the more than two dozen recipients of the Christine Olender Scholarship.

“I’m very grateful to carry on her memory through being a scholarship recipient,” scholarship recipient Gabriela Kukulka said.

Kukulka and Annaliese Vizconde are this year’s recipients. Each are awarded $1,000 in tuition. Their application included their goals for the future.

“Which is pediatric oncology and I want to go to the University of Michigan Ann Arbor,” Vizconde said.

Resurrection College Prep President Rick Piwowarski said Christine’s legacy reminds all of the students at Resurrection that you have a chance to serve no matter where you are in the world.

The history lessons of the September 11 attacks at Resurrection include the story about Christine, and about a family bound together by love, loss and legacy.

“In my mind I know she was a hero because she was born on the Fourth of July. She was killed on 9/11. But they’re all heroes I think,” Brzezinski said.

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