Always a New Yorker
Jane was born and raised on Long Island, New York. She lived in Manhattan for several years before relocating to Savannah in 1998. In 2013, she moved to Pooler but admits that New York will always have a fond place in her heart. “I am a New Yorker. In a strange way, it feels like I never left even though Georgia feels like home as well. I return often during the year to visit my brothers, nieces and nephews and other family members,” says Jane.
In addition to her roots, Jane’s connection to New York will be indelibly stamped on her heart; September 11, 2001, is a day that changed the world, our country, her life and the lives of her family members. “I never really considered the concept of mortality at all until that day,” says Jane. 9/11 was definitely a Grismer family affair. Jane’s father was the general manager of building operations for the World Trade Center. Her older brother was a New York City (FDNY) firefighter and her younger brother was a New York City (NYPD) police officer. Her father had retired before that day; however, her brothers were part of the response teams.
“My older brother, Jimmy, actually traded shifts that day with his mutual partner and friend Tommy Hetzel. Tommy died that day. That could have been my brother. I never lose sight of that,” says Jane.
Jane admits that, like many Americans, even now she can’t wrap her head around what happened that tragic day. Her family lost many of their friends. “Loss seemed to be overwhelming and it lingered on and on,” Jane recalls. Then, two years later, her mother passed away from cancer. “I was broken. There was so much darkness and pain and I couldn’t see my way out,” admits Jane. Then, in 2007, although being a self-proclaimed “God skeptic,” Jane asked for His help and instantly felt protected, guided and surrounded by love. From that moment, Jane dedicated her life to service. “Now I try to be of service to others and very little is about me alone,” says Jane.
Vowing to Never Forget
As Jane entered a life of service, doors opened for her. Eight years ago, she was named race director of the Tunnel to Towers Savannah 5K Run & Walk. The event is an offshoot of the main event held each year in New York since 2002. The race was born to honor NYC Firefighter Stephen Siller. Stephen was one of 343 firefighters killed on 9/11. Jane knew Stephen and the two attended a small Catholic high school together in Rockville Centre, New York, on Long Island.
On September 11, Stephen had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his brothers. As he was driving, he heard on the scanner that a plane struck one of the Twin Towers. He immediately turned his truck around and tried to drive through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which was already closed. Instead of giving up, he strapped on 65 pounds of gear and ran through the tunnel to get to the towers. Stephen was 34 years old and had five young children when he was killed. “While he was seen as a hero that day, it was really who he was – doing the next right thing and helping others,” says Jane.
Stephen’s siblings came together and started the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Since its inception, approximately 60 national runs and stair climbs have been established in cities all over the United States and abroad. The Savannah run is one of the largest of these. In 2018, over 2,000 people participated and Jane says it’s amazing to see the willing support and patriotism that people in our community have.
A portion of the proceeds from the Savannah event benefits the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire. Other money goes to programs such as building smart homes for catastrophically wounded military veterans. The 2018 race was a very special race because the Gold Star Program was established to provide mortgage-free homes to surviving spouses and children of military lost in combat. Savannah was fortunate to have a recipient this year, the widow of Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. “It was such a special moment. Stephen Siller’s brother Frank, the Foundation’s CEO, came down to present the house to Katie Celiz and their daughter at the event,” says Jane. “The Rangers also wanted to start the event and run the entire 5K route with Celiz’s daughter, Shannon. So, they pushed her in a stroller until they reached the finish line.” Jane is humbled to see how many people come together to do good for others.
As if that’s not special enough, each year, 343 children line Whitaker Street along Forsyth Park, each holding a placard of an NYC firefighter with their biography written on the back to represent the 343 lost heroes. “We call this amazing group TEAM 343 and not one of these kids was born before 9/11, so this is a great opportunity for them to learn about the impact of that day and it also exemplifies what ‘Never Forget’ really means,” adds Jane.
The planning, coordination and execution required to create this event is a year-round commitment that Jane is completely dedicated to. “I have an exciting and challenging full-time position at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Pooler, which I give my all to. Amazingly the passion that I have for Tunnel to Towers also gives me the energy to make that happen as well.”
“Life and experience have taught me how to curate and align how I spend the precious time we’re all allowed on earth. Doing what I’m fortunate to be able to do keeps me grounded and grateful every day.” She doesn’t work alone. “It’s a collaboration – without a great team, along with the tremendous partnership of WTOC-TV’s Tim Guidera and Savannah’s own Dick Eckburg, we would never have grown the way we have.”
She’s now on the Foundation’s Leadership Team and collaborates with others who are starting similar runs. “I get calls from race directors all over the country looking for mentorship and guidance. I want to make sure that all the lessons we’ve learned along the way are shared with other passionate volunteers who want to make Tunnel to Towers part of their community, too,” adds Jane.
Directing the Savannah run has led Jane to experience many incredible things. She got to help ring the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange on behalf of the Foundation and she has met amazing people – like Stephen Siller’s extended family, other race directors from around the world, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and other celebrities. Jane knows that remembering 9/11 is a shared experience for all Americans.
Her older brother Jimmy is now a captain with the New York Fire Department and her younger brother Rich, who retired due to health reasons from 9/11, still lives in New York. Her dad moved to Savannah and Jane makes Pooler her home with husband Nathan Dominitz, Savannah Morning News Sports Content Editor.
“Although my family was spared and others were not, we all share a similar sentiment of what 9/ 11 means and we can all agree to ‘Never Forget.’ By doing this, I’m playing a small part in helping to make that happen,” says Jane. A small part that has a tremendous impact.
The 2019 Tunnel to Towers Savannah event is in downtown Savannah on September 7 and the New York City 5K run takes place the last Sunday in September. For more information, partnership or sponsorship opportunities, contact Jane at Savannah@Tunnel2Towers.org