Jeff had departed from his home in Hinsdale, Illinois (near Chicago) on Monday to attend a business meeting in Boston before flying to Los Angeles on Tuesday to fulfill his duties as interim CEO of eLogic, an internet publishing company. When he was selected for the executive position a few months before, he and Sue were not interested in relocating their children to California. At that time they had two daughters, Kelly, 21, and Grace, 4, two sons, Joshua, 18, and Daniel, 17, and a baby in China named Hannah, whose exact age is unknown. (Her adoption was under way when Mr. Mladenik boarded the plane on Sept. 11.) Instead of moving the whole family because of his promotion, Jeff regularly commuted to Los Angeles on Monday mornings, and returned home on Friday evening. Sue said he loved his family, did not like traveling, and was anxious for the weekly traveling to LA to end.
Jeff is described by friends and family as a man of strong Christian faith, godly character and strong integrity, who used the time on his frequent, lengthy air commutes to read his Bible. Beyond his roles as a husband, father, and businessman, Sue says "he would like to be remembered as a Christian who walked his faith every day and in every way". It was this Christian faith that prompted him to pursue his Masters degree in Theology, which he earned from Wheaton College in 1996. He joined the staff at Christ Church of Oak Brook on a part-time basis, where he taught a weekly young couples bible study class, and started the "Faith at Work" group. He was ordained in 1999 by the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, and served as the Pastor of Workplace Ministries at Christ Church, leading discussions about faith in the workplace.
Sadly, the flight Jeff boarded on September 11 would not return him home safely to his family. When terrorists forcibly took control of the plane, Jeff was seated one row behind the last terrorist. A passenger two rows ahead of him was killed in flight - some speculate that he tried to stop the hijackers. At 8:46am, just over 30 minutes after the hijacking began, American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. All on board, including Jeff Mladenik, were killed instantly.
In the midst of the chaos and turmoil, and even in the face of death, Sue is confident that Jeff's Christian faith sustained him. "I am absolutely certain that Jeff was calming the other passengers. He is the hero. He traveled with a bible and would have been praying with and for everyone."
Jeff's friend's echo her sentiments.
Writing a tribute to a man I have never met was an intimidating prospect when I first signed up for the 2,996 project. But if Jeff lived his life the way his friends described, it would have been an honor to know him. It has been an honor to learn about him and remember him today, on the 5th anniversary of this national tragedy. As you remember those who lost loved ones on September 11, please keep the Mladenik family in your prayers. I rejoice that as Christians, the Mladeniks have the ultimate consolation, Jesus Christ, as their source of peace and comfort. May they know His nearness to them today, and always.
"You couldn't be around him without being affected by his enthusiasm for God," said Bill Cirignani, a friend from church. "I had been a Christian for six years, and had gotten stale, a little bit awry," but Mr. Mladenik, an ordained minister, reignited him, he said.
"He used his airplane time as his Bible time," said Cirignani, "And I'm sure Jeff would have had that Bible open when the plane was being hijacked and he would have been talking to those other passengers and praying with them."
Sue quoted another of Jeff's friends, who said "There is no doubt in my mind that right then, right there, Jeff had the presence of mind and took a plane load of people to Christ"
Memorials for Jeff Mladenik can be made to:
attn: Peggy Gurrad
P.O. Box 1354
Longview, WA 98632
Altrusa, a not-for-profit agency, promotes orphanage assistance programs in China. One of their projects helps to sponsor children in Chinese orphanages, allowing them to study, gain access to medical care, and live with foster families. Over the years, Altrusa has helped thousands of children in China. Three of the Mladenik’s daughters, Grace, Hannah (whose adoption was in-process at the time of Jeff's death), and Bethany (adopted in 2004) were adopted from an orphanage in China. For more information about Altrusa, see their website at: http://www.altrusa.ws/.
Resources used and quoted in this tribute, and links to other tributes to Jeff Mladenik:
The Mladenik family web site
Dateline newscast: Interview with members of Jeff's class at church
Tribute from June2001 DTC (Dossier to China) group
New York Times Legacy Page
Another 2,996 blogger tribute to Mr. Mladenik
9/11 Commission Official Report
click here to read more tributes to the victims of the terror attacks of Sept 11