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Cheryle's garden

A memorial to Cheryle Thedans Sincock, a native of Avoca, is shown at the Rose of Lima Catholic Cemetery in Avoca. (Justine Wettschreck/Daily Globe)

Life of Avoca native, killed in 9-11 attacks, honored by brother

AVOCA -- Ten years ago, Denny Thedans was planting trees in front of a strip mall in Sioux Falls, S.D., when a co-worker said he heard a report on the radio of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York. Later, they heard a plane had hit the Pentagon.

"I told the guys I'd call my sister that night and find out what was going on," Denny said. "She had been working there for 15 years, so I figured she'd know. I never thought once all day that something had happened to Cheryle."

Cheryle Thedans Sincock's office window was about two rows over from the spot American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. It wasn't until after he returned home from work that Denny learned Cheryle was missing.

"Her car was in the lot, but they couldn't find her," he said.

It would be almost two weeks before Cheryle's family would face the inescapable truth -- Cheryle had died during the attack.

"There was hope at first because things were so chaotic," Denny explained. "No one really knew which hospitals people were taken to, some victims were brought in after being loaded into someone's car. They had to wait and straighten out who the hospitals had."

Cheryle was buried in Quantico National Cemetery, Va., Oct. 12, 2001. Born to Ralph and Frances Thedans April 22, 1948, in Slayton, she was raised in the small town of Avoca with 12 brothers and sisters. She left behind a husband, three daughters, five grandchildren, a mother and 10 siblings.

At the Rose of Lima Catholic Cemetery in Avoca, an empty bench is surrounded by bushes and wild grasses. A plaque with her name and the phrase, "Fallen But Not Forgotten" is nearby, along with a stone etched with her picture. Several varieties of yellow flowers are planted throughout the garden. It's not a shrine, Denny said. It's Cheryle's garden.

"Cheryle liked yellow," Denny said. "And she used to rib me all the time about digging up these grasses and taking them home. "I always told her, 'I don't think so.' I transferred them here to her garden from the original house we grew up in."

Denny described his sister Cheryle as a down-to-earth, everyday person -- one who was always joking and laughing.

"She was fun to be around," he said. "She was a good mother and grandmother."

Ten years later, Cheryle's husband and daughters are doing well, Denny said. There are seven grandchildren now, and one of Cheryle's daughters is a tour guide at the memorial at the Pentagon -- a job she thoroughly enjoys.

Denny went to Washington D.C. for the dedication of the memorial several years ago.

"They did a great job -- it's just an awesome site," he said.

His own memorial to Cheryle, her garden, is complete now, and Denny drives to Avoca often to care for the garden in the cemetery and the ones that grow on the sites where his parents' house once stood. There are quite a few people who know about Cheryle's garden, he said, and people are welcome to stop and visit.

"That's what it's all about," he explained. "Not just on the anniversary, but every day."

Denny, who served four years in the Marine Corps -- the last nine months of that service in Vietnam -- said he hopes people remember and honor the military men and women who are fighting the war on terror, and think about the sacrifices they make.

"They know they might not make it back, and some don't," he said. "We've lost a lot of men and women."

The victims of 9/11 need to be remembered also, as do those who rushed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon to save lives.

"They are heroes, too," Denny said. "We have to remember those who were injured, and those who died. They were just people doing their jobs."

A decade later, he still misses his sister. Sometimes he looks up in the sky, sees a plane flying overhead and thinks, "That's what killed Cheryle."

The anniversary is important, but everyday remembrance is just as important.

"Every day is an anniversary to me," Denny said. "This isn't something you get over -- it's something you live with."