Belson Memorial Also Funds Scholarships
As a band rocked through a string of hit songs for the crowd assembled at Pier 92 last Saturday, Steve Belson’s mother talked about her son and her life since the day he died doing the work he loved.
"What keeps me going is that he did everything he wanted to do in his life," Madeline Belson Brandstadter said. She spoke of Steve’s days as a lifeguard and how he became "a fixture" at Beach 92 Street, which was renamed Bells Beach after he was killed on September 11.
This year, Steve was honored with an all-day social event that began on Bells Beach in the morning, then moved to Pier 92 in the afternoon and finished at Connolly’s. Family, friends and coworkers came to support the memorial fund in his name that has already awarded $1,000 scholarships to 10 local lifeguards.
Being part of a scholarship committee that helps college-bound young adults has become a rewarding part of Madeline’s life, and by listening to her talk about Steve, one can begin to understand why giving back to the community, and helping young lifeguards, is such a fitting tribute.
Steve belonged to a "very bonded" group of lifeguards who, after some prodding, joined the New York City Fire Department, Madeline said. There, he found his calling – helping people, she said. "His motto was ‘do the right thing.’"
Firefighter John Tell recalled a story that illustrated Steve’s generosity on a website dedicated to the memory of September 11 victims. Tell was supposed to work the night tour following his lieutenant promotion and needed a favor. "I wanted to celebrate with my family, who were all present at the ceremony." Tell recalled. Steve offered to work the tour, even after Tell reminded him that, because of the promotion, he wouldn’t be able to return the favor.
In the two years since Steve was killed, Madeline has heard many stories like this. These remembrances, she said, have been teaching her more and more about the life of her son. In fact, she said, it has only been since his death that she began to know so much about his adult life.
Madeline, who lives in Flushing, now feels a strong connection to Rockaway. She has seen people stop and touch the light pole that holds the sign that reads "Bells Beach." Madeline even purchased an apartment in the western end and summered here to "keep close." In the time she has been a resident and frequent visitor to the peninsula, she said, she has seen with her own eyes that her son was "a well loved person" here. That is why memorials to Steve are held locally, she said.
On the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Madeline was not at Ground Zero. "I didn’t go to any of those things," she said. Instead, she listened to the radio as her son’s name was read. Hearing it, she said, nearly destroyed her.
But as Madeline sat on the deck at Pier 92, she was in control of her emotions and said she still has joy in her life. She is helping to raise her grandson, Jack, and enjoys creative writing as a hobby. And even though Steve’s remains have not been identified, she has also found acceptance.
"I don’t want to know about any positive identification of remains…in my heart and mind he has been cremated," she said, "He has been honored and memorialized and still exists in the minds of his friends. That is closure."
It was not clear how much money was raised this year, at press time.