Local sisters honored in NYC for Christmas money donation

Gretchen Lysne, 9, and Victoria Lysne, 7, were official starters of first-ever Tower Climb in One World Trade Center building

Two young girls from West Salem just thought they were doing what’s right when they donated their Christmas money to the families of two fallen police officers, but their generosity has brought much more than they ever imagined.

News 8 first introduced West Salem sisters Gretchen and Victoria Lysne in January. The girls donated the $20 that each of them received for Christmas to the families of officers Rafeal Ramos and Wenjian Liu, the two New York City police officers shot and killed in their squad car in December.

The sisters had no idea how much that donation meant to more than just those two families.

The organization the girls donated their money to, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, was so touched by the story, it asked Gretchen, Victoria and their family to go to New York and be the honored guests at the first-ever stair climb at the One World Trade Center Building.

More than four months after her daughters donated their Christmas money, mother Rachel Lysne never expected to receive a phone call from New York.

“Because of the girls’ giving at Christmas time, it was a story that really stood out to the organization and they would like the girls to help start the first-ever Tower Climb,” Rachel Lysne said.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation was created in honor of Stephen Siller, a New York firefighter who lost his life while saving others on Sept. 11, 2001. The foundation’s Tower Climb, which took place May 17, was the first ever inside the One World Trade Center building, and is a race up the 1,970 steps of the building standing 104 stories tall at ground zero.

“It was a tremendous privilege that they thought of my girls to do this,” said Craig Lysne, the girls’ father.

While in New York, the girls were honored for their generosity by the police commissioner of the NYPD and the New York Fire Department.

“They said you did a good job and stuff,” 7-year-old Victoria said.

“They were really proud of us and the only thing we could basically see was snapshots. I was just amazed at how popular we (were),” 9-year-old Gretchen said.

And then of course, the reason they were there, the Tower Climb.

“I remember when we started the race we (held) onto the fog horn and it made a loud noise for a really long time, and it was a cool experience to see how the stuff happened,” Gretchen said.

“Me and Gretchen held out a ribbon and we dropped the ribbon and then the first man could go,” Victoria said.

Although neither girl is old enough to remember Sept. 11, 2001, they met survivors of the attacks and families who weren’t as fortunate. All of those people the girls now call their friends.

“It was just amazing,” Gretchen said.

The girls are still very surprised by the outpouring of gratitude they are receiving for what they said was just the right thing to do.

“I thought it would be regular Christmas money going to (the Ramos and Liu families),” Gretchen said.

“I just can’t believe how much, what my two girls did meant so much to so many people,” Rachel said.

But their big hearts and generosity are leaving a lasting impression on more than just those who received their donation.

“My girls have touched the nation like we never expected,” Craig said.

“It’s just been a cool experience,” Gretchen said.

When the family was asked to be a part of the Tower Climb, Rachel was so touched she decided to do the stair climb as well.

Craig has always emphasized to the girls, and their younger brother Michael, they should to always support and honor police officers, firefighters and the military.

The Tower Climb had more than 1,000 climbers and raised more than $500,000.

The proceeds go to build “smart homes” for families of severely wounded veterans and to help educate students who have lost a parent in war.