HOMETOWN HEROES: Foundation Keeps a Friend’s Memory Alive

Thursday, August 27, 2009
By Brandy Dolce
Kenneth Tietjen

Kenneth Tietjen

HAZLET – “I’d rather be called the reluctant Hometown Hero,” Tom Johnson, 34, said.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Johnson – a K-9 unit police officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – lost his former partner and best friend Ken Tietjen, 31, also of Hazlet. Tietjen had commandeered a cab to respond to a first-aid call in the lobby of the north tower of the World Trade Center just after the first plane hit.
In the two years since the tragedy, Johnson – with the help of Tietjen’s family – formed the Kenneth Tietjen Memorial Foundation, which provides holiday gifts for needy children.
“When we were growing up, (our parents) would make us buy toys for (needy) families, and Kenny’s job was al-ways to buy the bikes for the kids,” said Tietjen’s sister, Laurie Tietjen, 31, of Hazlet.
After the 2001 terror attacks, her family decided they should keep the tradition going.
Johnson spent Christmas 2001 with them and has since become president of the foundation, organizing benefits, purchasing gifts and making deliveries in Kenneth Tietjen’s name.
Johnson and his wife, Kimberly, now have two children, Dylan, 3, and Danielle, 1.
While Laurie Tietjen calls Johnson her family’s angel, Johnson thinks differently.
“I feel selfish,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to hold onto his memory with the foundation. But if you want to put down a Hometown Hero, put down Ken. I’m just standing in for him.”
Despite working 12-hour shifts during this past holiday season, Johnson organized a benefit that raised $13,000 to-ward the purchase of 130 bicycles. He hopes to be able to purchase more than that this year.
“He really has gone out of his way to keep my brother’s memory alive,” Laurie Tietjen said. “He (often) says that he wished he was with my brother. But I tell him, ‘My brother left you here to help us.”
The holidays are different without Ken Tietjen, but the joy in giving a bicycle to a child who might otherwise never have had one makes it easier somehow.
“It helps all of us get through the holidays,” Johnson said. “He made the ultimate sacrifice. I’m just kind of helping out a little.”
“He may not feel like (a hero), but he is,” Laurie Tietjen said of Johnson. “It’s our small way to thank him and let him know how proud my brother would have been of him for helping so many kids.”
Donations to the Kenneth Tietjen Memorial Foundation can be mailed to 27 Gregory St., Hazlet, NJ 07730.

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