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Christ Church to  remember reverend killed on 9/11

Updated: September 8, 2011 2:55AM

Following regular worship services Sept. 11, Christ Church of Oak Brook will honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with a special memorial concert at 3 p.m.

Among those being remembered that day will be former Christ Church Rev. Jeff Mladenik, who was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center 10 years ago.

Mladenik and his wife Sue lived in Hinsdale with their children and, after earning his masters in theology from Wheaton College, he began serving at Christ Church of Oak Brook.

“He kind of walked in off the street,” Sue Mladenik said. “Art DeKruyter was the pastor then. Jeff began teaching the young married Bible study class and went on to teach the faith at work group. Occasionally, they would need someone to fill in and do the services at the church and he would step in. He loved doing that.”

Rather than move his family to Los Angeles after accepting an interim CEO job, Mladenik chose to commute to the West Coast.

“Starting that July, he would leave our house on Monday for the red eye and would be home on Friday,” Sue Mladenik said. “He wasn’t supposed to be on that plane, but had to go to Boston to meet with a customer. He was in meetings all day Monday.”

At 7:40 a.m. Tuesday morning, while she was caring for their youngest child, Sue Mladenik’s phone rang.

“I dove over the bed to answer to not wake our infant,” she said. “I got a dial tone. I checked the caller ID and it said, ‘No data.’ I think now it was Jeff calling from the plane, 10 minutes before impact.”

At 8 a.m. her phone rang again. It was Tad Lagestee, Jeff Mladenik’s friend and fellow member of Christ Church. Lagestee met Jeff in 1996 at a Bible study Jeff led at Christ Church.

“He said, ‘Where’s Jeff? He’s not in New York is he?’” Sue said. “I said, ‘No, he’s in Boston.’ I turned on CNN just in time to see the second plane. Over the next several hours, the kids called from school asking, ‘Where’s dad?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Around 5 p.m. that evening, American Airlines called Sue Mladenik with a grief counselor on the line, confirming her husband was aboard one of the hijacked planes.

Gathering to pray

Down the road at the church, word had gotten out that Mladenik was possibly on one of the planes.

“A group of about 20 of us gathered around a television screen in our Fellowship Hall,” Christ Church Senior Pastor Dan Meyer said. “I called a full staff meeting at 10 a.m. in order to pray together. As several of us walked toward the church’s sanctuary, a staff member told me that is was very likely Jeff was on that first plane.”

While planning the church’s response to the events, Meyer noticed a steady flow of people showing up at the church.

“On that day and in the days that followed, people did not want to be alone,” he said. “They wanted to grieve, or rage or pray in community. I remember leading a brief prayer service that morning and the words of Psalm 46 meaning more and more to me and others, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall.’”

During their memorial concert, Jeff Mladenik’s friend Lagestee will remember and honor his friend.

“He was a person of high integrity,” Lagestee said. “Everybody he met knew he was someone you could trust and confide in. My biggest memory of Jeff is how everyday he started out very centered with his relationship with God. That’s a good lesson to all of us.”

During that time, Sue Mladenik and her six children will be in New York for the first time on a Sept. 11 since the attacks. She will take part in the World Trade Center Run to Remember 5K with her late husband on her mind.

“He had a passion for his faith,” she said. “That’s the common thread I keep hearing from people who knew him. How he helped them cement their faith in God.”

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