A lawyer who took a 70 percent pay cut to move across the country and coach gymnastics. A publishing executive inspired by his oldest daughter to become an ordained pastor and adopt. A naval commander who wrote eloquently about the price of freedom after losing two comrades.
These are just a few from the Chicago area whose lives ended on Sept. 11, 2001.
And these are just a few of the lives they left behind:
A single mother of six who adopted her two youngest after her husband was gone. A family who recognized the kindness from strangers and helped give their hometown a place to mourn. A mother who has started a new life in a new place, just like her daughter had begun to do that fateful day.
Forced into an abyss a decade ago with thousands of others, those who lost loved ones or barely escaped have grieved, grown and persevered in the shadows of the terrorist attacks. They have devoted their lives to preserving memories, carrying on legacies and completing unfinished tasks for nearly 3,000 people who didn't have the chance.
'I know they meant well'
The only thing Jeff Mladenik asked his wife, Sue, to do when leaving their Hinsdale home was to take care of their 4-year-old daughter, Grace, who recently had been adopted from China.
The couple had been working on the adoption of a second daughter they already had named Hannah when Jeff Mladenik's plane, American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
When the adoption agency called Sue Mladenik to ask her what she planned to do, she turned the question on them. How would they help get their daughter home?
Hannah Mladenik arrived in Hinsdale less than a year later. Two years after that, 2-year-old Bethany left China to join the family too.
Since the terrorist attacks, Mladenik has devoted her life to helping her three biological children heal and to raising her three youngest daughters from China as a single mother.
Seeking to do that in peace, she built a new home in Sugar Grove.
"I didn't want people coming up to me and my girls telling me how sorry they were and how they prayed for me," said Mladenik, 53. "I know they meant well, but my kids aren't deaf. I just wanted to go somewhere where nobody really knew who we were."
Mladenik declined the victim's compensation fund and sued American Airlines for not locking their cockpits and for endangering her husband. That settlement and her husband's life insurance policy have enabled her family to live comfortably and to donate money in her husband's name to the orphanages where her youngest daughters spent their early years.
Though Jeff Mladenik worked full time as a publishing executive, he also served as a pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook.
But keeping faith has been a struggle, Sue Mladenik said. "How could God let this happen to so many innocent people?" she said.
She has discovered God's grace through her children. After a rocky journey, two have graduated from college. One has married and given her a grandchild. Meanwhile, her three youngest children have given her new purpose.
"My older kids struggled. … I was such a wreck. I honestly thought they would be better off without me," she said. "But not Grace. She was 4. She still believed Daddy was coming home from work."
Hannah and Bethany never knew the man they call their father, but they grieve just the same, Mladenik said. They occasionally wake her up in the middle of the night.