Their paths kept crossing.
As Linda Limburg Fergus '83 and Margaret Pitt Iskyan '83 were each
raising two children of the same ages in the same town in Connecticut, and
their husbands were working at the same investment-services firm in the
World Trade Center in New York, it was inevitable that they would be living
somewhat parallel lives.
It had been that way since they had started at Saint Michael's College in
1979. Back then, during the first week of their first year, they had both met
their future husbands, Ed Fergus '83 and John Iskyan '82. Both later moved
with their young families to Wilton, a suburb on the New Haven commuter
line to Manhattan. Ed and John shared a love for the outdoors; they'd
also often share rides to the train station on their way to work at Cantor
Fitzgerald. Margaret and Linda took their kids to the same hockey lessons.
And when the 2001 school year started in the fall, Shannon Fergus and Peter
Iskyan, then 12, were both seventh graders at Middlebrook School in Wilton,
while Tom Fergus and Carolynn Iskyan, then nine, were in fifth grade at theCider Mill School.
"We've always said that clearly our lives were meant to run parallel,"
Margaret Iskyan says of herself and Linda. "And, sadly, we were meant to
experience this journey together."
The journey she means began that September, on a Tuesday morning.
Ed was at work on the 104th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade
Center, John on the 105th. When Linda first learned that something terrible
had happened, she called Margaret and asked, "Have you heard anything?"
"Then somebody from Cantor called me," Linda recalls. "They said, 'Whatever you're hearing, the chances of them being alive are slim to none.
Nobody's making it down.'"
"That's when it all began," says Margaret.
John Iskyan and Ed Fergus were among three
alumni the Saint Michael's College community lost
on 9/11. The third was John McErlean '84, a partner
at Cantor Fitzgerald, a resident of Larchmont, NY,
and a father of four children—Ryan, Timothy, Mary
Kate, and Allie Maeve. Ed and John McErlean
knew each other well; their desks were across from
one another at the global financial-services firm's
headquarters in the North Tower, where Cantor
Fitzgerald lost more people that day than any other
"It Just Blossomed"
Even before September 11, John Iskyan and Ed
Fergus's lives had been running somewhat parallel
Both young men earned acceptance to St. Mike's
through the Delayed Admissions Program (DAP).
From 1970 to 1980, the innovative DAP offered
admission to selected applicants if they successfully
completed two summer courses. Thanks to DAP,
by the time their first year started, both John and
Ed, who knew each other only as acquaintances
in college, had already bonded with a number of
classmates. Most of those bonds would stay strong for
the rest of their lives.
Their group made sure to meet each year at the Stone Hut, a vintage lodge atop Mount Mansfield.
It was at the start of the 1979–80
year, John's second on campus and
Ed's first, that they met the women
they would marry.
"He already knew about
downtown, where to go and what
to do, and he was going to show
me," laughs Linda, who met Ed
her first day of college. They didn't
start dating till October—"we just hung out with a
group of friends," she says. "He had a really good
core of friends from the summer program, and it just
blossomed from there."
"St. Mike's seems to somehow instill or forge
long-standing relationships in people," muses Bart
Wenrich '82, who was John's buddy from the DAP
summer on. "For us, that program kind of solidified
things. We formed friendships that lasted all four
years of school."
John and Bart's core group was an athletic,
adventurous bunch of guys. They went on hiking and
camping trips, then skied at Stowe in the winter. For
years after graduation, the guys kept those outdoor
gatherings going. They made sure, in particular,
to meet each year at the Stone Hut, a rustic,
1936-vintage lodge atop Mount Mansfield that is run
by the State of Vermont and Stowe Mountain Resort.
"John and the group would spend a night at the
hut, and ski down the next day in fresh snow," Bart
recalls. "That was an annual ritual. I was a novice
skier that tried to keep up with those guys—and
generally not that well!"
Though Margaret and John also met during her
first week, they didn't started dating until the next
"We were in classes together. I used to invite him
up for tea after sociology class—how funny is that?"
Margaret says with her distinctive bright laugh. "The
dorm I lived in, Lyons Hall, had a Valentine's Day
party. I invited John, and there was a fire alarm. We
were out on the quad after the alarm, and that's
where we had our first kiss."
Margaret and John stayed together through
college. So did Linda and Ed, mostly. "There were
those ups and downs," Linda says: "we broke up a
couple of times, but we were together." When she
and Ed got married three years after graduation,
several dozen of their Saint Michael's friends and
classmates were there.
"We're still all really good friends," she says.
"We're like a family. They're always checking on you.
Especially after 9/11, they were all there to help."
Two weeks after his graduation, John moved to
New York to start work at Cantor Fitzgerald, and he
and Margaret broke up for a little over two years.
Then the couple reconnected at two successive
weddings of John's old roommates. That October,
when Margaret drove from Boston to Vermont for
the annual Craftsbury Common Banjo Contest,
John was also there. That's when they agreed to start
Soon after, John flew to Logan Airport for $19.99
on People Express.
"He got off the plane with a dozen red roses. I had
a bottle of champagne, and we went out to dinner
that night," Margaret says. "We said okay, we're back
together, and we're back together for good; but let's
take it slow, so not to freak out our friends and family.
And we were engaged"—her laugh erupts again—"a
"That's slow enough!" Linda says.
"We were married nine months after that, at St.
Mike's," Margaret adds. "We had 180 people there.
Father Joe McLaughlin married us."
"John used to say it was fate," she says. "That we
were meant to go to St. Mike's, and we were meant
to meet and get married."
Their reception was at the Top Notch Resort,
"I Called You Right After"
To both Margaret and Linda, the parallel events
in their lives now seem like things that were meant
to happen. Because when the time came that each of
them needed someone, they would each be there.
"If you look back," says Linda, "if you just follow
the path, it's like there were stepping stones. To
At St. Mike's, Margaret shared a group of
friends with Ed but didn't know Linda well. Their
pattern of connection began shaping up when their
husbands were working at Cantor Fitzgerald. The two
men, Linda says, "were cut out of the same cloth.
They both skied; both hikers. They just loved the
outdoors." Both were energetic, generous souls who
made friends easily, and kept them long-term. "There
wasn't a task he wouldn't tackle," Linda says of her
Both couples began their married lives in Norwalk,
Connecticut. "Then Margaret moved to Wilton, and
then I did," says Linda. "I would run into her. I saw
her at a restaurant; we ran into each other checking
out a kindergarten for our kids at a Catholic school.
It was just, 'Hey, how are you doing?' We'd see each
other at the ice-skating rink, and when I moved
to Wilton I'd see her there. It's weird, when you
think back and look at it. We always say it was life,
When that Tuesday morning in September came,
Linda isn't sure how soon the two of them talked
again. But Margaret remembers.
She'd been given a sedative after the news first
hit, and had gone to sleep on a couch. Margaret is
the youngest of five siblings, the rest of whom live in
Massachusetts. Within two hours of the news that
American Airlines Flight 11, the first of two airliners
that would be flown into the 110-story Twin Towers,
had hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., her brother
and her three sisters were on their way by car to
"I woke up and they were all there," she recalls,
"and I said, 'You guys know something.' So they sat
down and said, 'Linda Fergus just called and said,
Nobody anywhere above the crash made it out.'"
"I called you right after that," Margaret says to
All 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees working on
floors 101 through 105 in the North Tower that day
lost their lives.
"Thank God We Had Each Other"
Soon after, Margaret and Linda began going
together to meetings at a Center for Hope, for
families in illness and loss, at the Family Centers in
nearby Darien, and to a support group in Greenwich
for spouses of 9/11 victims.
"We did that for a year, at least," Margaret says.
"Once a week."
"The kids did art projects, things like that," Linda
"I've always said I wouldn't wish this one anyone,"
Margaret reflects, "but thank God I had Linda to
go through it with, and Linda had me. Because it's
such a unique experience that... nobody else..." She
searches for words.
"There were moments when I was not functioning,
and I would call Linda and she'd get it," Margaret
says. "And vice versa: she'd call me and I'd get it.
Thank God we had each other."
The Saint Michael's community also responded
fast. "Right away, Father Brian [Cummings '86] was
calling us," Linda recalls. "The president was in
touch right away, too."
"Thank God I had Linda to go through it with, and Linda had me."
Margaret and Linda's kids got
involved with Tuesday's Children,
an organization that since 2001 has
promoted healing and recovery among
the family members, including some
3,000 children, of 9/11 victims.
They've done Tuesday's Children
service projects in Costa Rica and in post-Katrina New
Orleans. Both Shannon Fergus and Carolynn Iskyan
attended Project Common Bond, an eight-day "peacebuilding
and leadership" camp for teenagers around the
world who have lost a loved one to terrorism.
Within a month of the tragedy, the college
organized a memorial mass, presided over by Fr. Brian,
at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Wilton. Saint
Michael's invited all its alumni to come.
"A huge number showed up," Linda says.
Soon after, Marc A. vanderHeyden, the college's
then-president, and his wife traveled to Wilton
bearing proclamations in calligraphy, which they
presented to the families of each alumnus lost on
9/11. The college also offered full scholarships to any
children of each family who wished to attend Saint
Both of Ed and Linda's children graduated from
Saint Michael's: Shannon in 2011, Tom Fergus this
year. The Iskyans chose a different path. Pete Iskyan
graduated in 2011 from Ithaca College. His sister
Carolynn is a senior this fall at Savannah College of
Art and Design.
"The Bonds That Are Made"
And through the years since that morning when
everything changed, Linda and Margaret have been
steadfast friends. Both have since moved back to
Norwalk, where they live quite near each other. Every
week or two they get together for dinner. They often
vacation together as well, now that the kids are grown.
"We do girl trips," Linda quips.
"We've been to the Caribbean, Napa Valley, Arizona,
Vermont," Margaret adds.
"We do a lot," Linda says. "We're more like sisters."
They've gone to reunions together, too. And this
June, they attended their 30th.
"I think Saint Michael's is a really unique
community," Margaret reflects. "Some of my other
friends, back 30 years ago, were saying, ‘Wow—it's
amazing how many friends you have from college.' It's
like a big family. My brother went to the college;
I was in seventh grade when we dropped him off, and
I said, ‘I don't know why, but this is where I'm
supposed to go to school.' And out of all our friends,
almost everybody has a sibling or a child at St. Mike's.
It's a very compassionate, caring school."
In May 2011, almost a decade after that September
morning, Linda and her children endowed the Ed
Fergus Scholarship at the college. Its aim is to support
an entering student who needs a little help financially,
just as Ed Fergus did academically when St. Mike's gave
him a chance through the Delayed Admission Program.
As his own 30th reunion approached, Bart
Wenrich, John Iskyan's pal since their DAP summer,
decided he needed to do something that would honor
his friend's memory.
"John was a very enthusiastic supporter of St.
Mike's," Bart explains. "He was very focused on giving
back and participating in school affairs, and as an
alumnus he was trying to talk a lot of us into getting
involved and participating—which quite frankly I was
pretty lax about.
"He would drag me to these Wall Street [alumni]
functions," says Bart, who went into film production
after college, and most recently was a producer and
director on the TV series Gossip Girl. "I'd be the only
guy not in a suit, and I'd be saying, 'Okay John, can we
go now, get a burger and a couple of beers?'
"When he passed away, I was thinking about how
important he was to all of us. He symbolized all the
good things that St. Mike's has to offer: a sense of
place and community and long-lasting friendship,
and the bonds that are made there, over and above
the academic experience, that make the college really
unique and special. John recognized that value."
As co-chair of his class's 30th reunion, Bart decided
to launch a campaign to endow a scholarship in his
friend's memory. "The fact that it was in John's name
got people's attention and made it easier," he says.
The fundraising took two years, but "we got some
momentum, and we met the goal."
"Reflecting on John made me come to my own
appreciation of the experience that I had at St. Mike's,"
Bart sums up. "At the end of the day, maybe this will
help another deserving student afford to have the
enrichment we had—not only academically, but in life."
At the 30th reunion of the Class of '83 this past
June, Ed's friend Dave Fahey organized a golf outing
to benefit the Ed Fergus Scholarship. "Thirty-three
attendees in the rain," Linda says. "Came from near
and far. It was a beautiful tribute to Ed and our
"Live It to the Fullest"
There is one last piece to this story, a final
Margaret will never be sure exactly why (she
believes it's because her husband made it to the
roof of the tower that morning) but John's body was
recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center
and was returned to his family.
The rock face bears John's name, the dates of his birth and death, and something he often said: "Life is short. Live it to the fullest."
On Memorial Day 2002, eight months after the
tragedy, Margaret, her family, much of John's family,
and John's core group of Saint Michael's buddies
gathered to bring his ashes to the
top of Mount Mansfield. That,
Margaret says, is where John's soul
was most free. They also brought
a 75-pound stone that she had
selected and had inscribed for her
The rock has a white-agate seam
running across it top to bottom,
almost like a ski trail. Margaret
had John's signature incised along
that line. The rock face also bears
his name, the dates of his birth and death, and
something John often said: "Life is short. Live it to
The group also had John and Ed's prayer cards.
They planned to drive up the Mountain Road to the
Stone Hut, at 3,550 feet. But this being Vermont,
there was still snow on the mountain that Memorial
Day, and the road was closed.
So the whole party hiked up the Nose Dive ski trail
to the top. John's guys took turns carrying his stone.
Seventy-five pounds. "That," Bart says, "was one
"It was an honor to be part of that," he adds. "It
was beautiful, a great tribute to John. It speaks to
how important that mountain was to him."
The party spread John's ashes, then placed his
and Ed's prayer cards beneath the stone. Linda and
Margaret have since gone up there together, several
times, to visit. Their kids have gone, too. The day
before returning to campus for the 30th reunion,
Margaret and Linda made the journey again.
"You've got to hike down. It's getting a little
overgrown," Linda says, and the two friends agree on
this, too. "But the stone is so neat."
"Yes," Margaret says. "It's beautiful."