A Centreville resident for nearly 20 years, retired Army Lt. Col. Karl Teepe, 57, died Sept. 11 when an airplane hijacked by terrorists slammed into the Pentagon.
He'd worked there 10 years as a civilian budget analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency and was a devoted husband and father who loved his family and enjoyed gardening in his Country Club Manor back yard.
Friday morning, Deer Park Elementary — the school in his neighborhood — honored Teepe with a special tree planted in remembrance of him. It also commemorated all those who perished in the Sept. 11 tragedies and recognized the efforts of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in the aftermath at the Pentagon.
"It was absolutely wonderful — such a nice thing to do," said Teepe's wife of 34 years, Donna, preschool director at Christ Presbyterian Church in Chantilly. She and son Adam, 22, attended the ceremony in front of the school and, she said, "I was very touched when they called and asked."
Teepe's favorite trees were dogwoods, and the school planted a pink dogwood donated by Merrifield Garden Center. Deer Park SCA president Sam Datta, 12, said the students wanted to do something to honor the victims and firefighters, and his mother — Fairfax County's budget director, Susan Datta — suggested that they honor Teepe.
Sam and the other SCA officers spent three months planning the ceremony, and their hard work showed. The event began with the presentation of colors by the county fire department's Honor Guard and the singing of the national anthem by Deer Park's sixth-grade chorus, under the direction of Loretta Schmitt and Marianne Tagge.
Besides school principal Lynne Pope and vice-principal Doug Brooks, dignitaries attending included Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Sully District School Board representative Kathy Smith, plus Michael Neuhard, assistant county fire chief.
In his speech, Sam told the crowd, "Sept. 11 changed everyone's lives, and it scared me. But it made us all realize how lucky we are to live in this country." Sharing what he'd learned about Teepe, Sam said he was "always there for his family and sounded like a really great dad." He presented Donna Teepe with a bouquet of tulips and praised the firefighters as brave and courageous.
SCA members then dedicated the already-planted tree by turning over shovels-full of dirt. They then held hands in a ring around the tree as the Rev. Gary Maines of Centreville Community Bible Church — which meets at Deer Park — gave the benediction.
"Father, we thank you for the hope in America that we see in these children," he said. "We thank you for our brave firefighters. This tree represents life and the freedoms we enjoy."
Afterward, Donna Teepe was pleased that her late husband was honored in such a special way. "He loved gardening and always considered the back yard as another room of our house," she said. "We're only a couple blocks from here, and I can come up and visit the tree."
Daughter Wendy Green and husband Derek, of Colorado, were unable to attend, but son Adam represented the Teepe siblings. (He's stayed home with his mother, since his father died, but plans to attend grad school at the University of California at Santa Barbara in the fall).
He called Friday's ceremony "amazing" and Sam's speech "incredible." Said Adam: "It's great that they did this — they didn't have to, and it really means something to me and to my mom. I grew up playing baseball on the fields that used to be here, so I think it's appropriate that the tree is here, because we have a connection to this place."
Pope, too, was delighted with her students. "I think the children did for us what we couldn't do for ourselves," she explained. "Many adults were so numbed and overwhelmed by the enormity of the tragedy. But the children stepped forward and have thought of ways to give to their community and help out. That American character really brought out the best in these kids, and I'm very proud of them."