Archdeacon: UD’s connection to Sept. 11 remains strong, vivid — and heartbreaking

Dayton football players wore 9/11 patches on their helmets on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, during a game against Eastern Illinois at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton football players wore 9/11 patches on their helmets on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, during a game against Eastern Illinois at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

With 11 minutes left before the start of the University of Dayton’s football game with Eastern Illinois on Saturday at Welcome Stadium, the public address announcer asked the crowd to stand for a moment of silence to remember the victims of 9/11.

Exactly 20 years ago – September 11, 2001 – terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and flew two into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in lower Manhattan, toppling both. Another plane was slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C .and a fourth was headed for the White House, but crashed in a Pennsylvania field when passengers fought back

Close to 3,000 people were killed and 6,000 were injured in the deadliest attack ever on American soil.

Saturday the UD players all had decals pasted on their helmets that read:

“United We Stand…9/11…Never Forget.”

Up in the stands – a few rows beneath the press box – Garth and Cerira Hines, a Dayton couple in their 20s, stood at attention wearing black shirts that read “Never Forget” on the front and, on the back, “The memories of those we loved and lost will never fade away.”

Garth and Cerira Hines of Dayton wear T-shirts commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11 at Saturday's UD football game at Welcome Stadium. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF
Caption
Garth and Cerira Hines of Dayton wear T-shirts commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11 at Saturday's UD football game at Welcome Stadium. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

And six beloved people from the UD family were lost in the World Trade Center attacks:

William Wilson (a 1965 grad), Joe Zuccala (1968), David Wiswall (1969), Mary Lenz Wieman (1980), Al Niedermeyer (1993) and Kristy Irvine Ryan (1993).

All had once been deeply intertwined in the UD fabric.

Mary Lenz met her husband-to-be Marc Wieman at a Founders Hall party in the late 1970s.

Zuccala was in the Delta Gamma Omega fraternity, which started a UD scholarship in his name after 9/11.

Although from Long Island, Kristy Irvine Ryan had many connections to UD. Her grandfather, Joseph “Chief” Wagner played football for the Flyers. Her sister Tracy and Tracy’s husband, Brian Janess, graduated from UD, too, as did several cousins for Shelby County.

Twenty years ago I covered the 9/11 aftermath at the World Trade Center and then returned to New York in 2002 for a one-year reflection that included a Day of Remembrance for the families of the UD victims and others at Kellenberg Memorial High School on Long Island.

I’ve been a newspaperman for 48 years now and covering 9/11 affected me like nothing else in my career.

When I was driving there right after the attack, I was overwhelmed by what had happened and how I’d ever be able to cover it. I finally decided on just two tacts: Describe what I saw and put a human face on the story so people back home could better understand and feel the depth of what had happened.

The first part was tough enough. Photographer Ron Alvey and I spent a couple of weeks in New York and especially at Ground Zero.

Putting human faces on the accounts was the most haunting. We told the stories of desperate relatives of victims who congregated at the Armory with homemade leaflets showing the faces of those who were missing.

We went to a midtown firehouse where half the crew had died trying to rescue people when the towers fell.

And we especially tried to tell some of the UD stories.

We sat in the backyard of Stu Irvine’s Long Island home and talked about Kristy. A year later at the reflective, I sat with Marc Wieman and his three children. Then I caught up with him again in 2011.

His wife, Mary – an insurance marketing executive for the Aon Corp. – was giving a presentation on the 105th floor of the South Tower that morning. She was 43 when she died.

Her high school ring was eventually found, but nothing else. Marc got a cemetery plot for her and would visit it regularly even though nothing was in the grave. He told me it gave him solace to visit it.

He raised the three kids and tried to keep Mary’s memory alive any way he could. She loved carousels and every time they passed one, he had them all ride it.

He helped raise funds for and promote the building of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the WTC. And when he remarried in 2009, he and wife Stephanie asked that instead of presents, donations be made to “Voices of September 11,” a nonprofit organization that assists families of 9/11 victims.

I remember Marc telling me some of the best advice he got from someone afterwards was:

“You have to learn to live with the grief, not in it.”

‘Born rescuer’

“Big Al” Niedermeyer III had just returned from a two-week vacation the day before the Sept. 11 attacks.

He was a Port Authority officer, as his dad had been.

His co-worker Robert Fischer once told the New York Times “Al was a born rescuer” and then recounted how Niedermeyer had rescued passengers of US Air Flight 405 that had skidded off the runway at LaGuardia in the early 1990s.

Nancy Niedermeyer, Al’s wife, has told the story of a time before they were married when she and Al were in the car at busy Brooklyn intersection and they saw an elderly, disoriented man trying to cross the street.

She said Al jumped out and guided him across the street.

That’s when she decided Al would make a good husband.

The day of the attack, Niedermeyer rushed over from his New Jersey post and eventually called his wife. Nancy once recounted the brief conversation to writer Mary McCarty. He said: “I’m on the 14th floor of Tower 2 (South Tower)…And I love you.”

That’s the last she ever heard from him.

Son AJ told NPR reporters that the best medicine the family ever got was when his mom -- a month after they’d lost his dad – found out she was pregnant with his sister.

Angelica Joy was born in May of 2002.

He said her name means “messenger of God” and he thinks she was a message from his dad.

“I’ve told you this before, Angelica. You were one of the best things that possibly could have happened right then … and then every day after that,” AJ said to his sister when they sat down with NPR. “It was huge for mom and huge for me, too.”

“Thanks,” Angelica whispered.

Dayton football players wore 9/11 patches on their helmets on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, during a game against Eastern Illinois at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton football players wore 9/11 patches on their helmets on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, during a game against Eastern Illinois at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

‘I believe goodness will prevail’

Kristy’s mom, Toni, was from Sidney, and every summer the five Irvine girls would visit their Ohio cousins.

When she came to UD, Kristy brought her best friend, Meredith O’Neill along with her. They lived in Marycrest, then in houses on Kiefaber, Lowes and Stonemill.

Kristy was known for her good deeds here and when she graduated and went to work as an equities trader for Meredith’s dad at Sandler O’Neill on the 104th floor of the South Tower, she often went to help Meredith who taught at PS 145 in Harlem.

When a kindergarten boy and his mom were in a domestic abuse shelter, Kristy and some friends secretly got them the household items – and some toys – to help them transition to an apartment.

She began to help more and more people and Secret Smiles of New York was born.

Kristy had been married just three months when she and 66 coworkers were killed in the attack.

Her sister Tracy lived here in Kettering and was crushed by the loss. With the help of the other women in the Junior League of Dayton, they began to send aid to New York and eventually turned their attention to those in need in the Miami Valley.

Tracy Janess of Kettering holds a portrait of her sister Kristy Irvine Ryan, a University of Dayton graduate and young bride who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Before her death Kristy was involved with a children’s charity known as Secret Smiles. STAFF FILE PHOTO
Caption
Tracy Janess of Kettering holds a portrait of her sister Kristy Irvine Ryan, a University of Dayton graduate and young bride who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Before her death Kristy was involved with a children’s charity known as Secret Smiles. STAFF FILE PHOTO

That morphed into Secret Smiles of Dayton.

As Tracy once told me: “No matter what happens. No matter how evil something is. I believe goodness will prevail.”

That’s happened here and Secret Smiles now concentrates on getting bedding for children in need because of poverty, abuse or just bad luck, as most recently seen from the 2019 tornados and now the COVID pandemic.

With the help of the Klaben family and the Morris Furniture Company, as well as the United Way of Dayton, they have given out over out 8,000 beds in the past two decades. One of their biggest supporters has been former UD coach Brian Gregory and his wife Yvette.

When Gregory coached here, he delivered beds to unsuspecting people who never knew who he was. And he never told them, believing it was about them, not him.

Saturday – as UD was defeating EIU, 17-10 – the folks from Secret Smiles were out delivering beds again. Tracy has often sad, each time she sees a child light up because of the bedding, stuffed animals, books and other things they bring, she feels Kristy is with her.

So if you want to make sure a beloved 9/11 victim is never forgotten and, at the same time, help children here in the Miami Valley, you can donate to Secret Smiles:

Visit secretsmilesdayton.org or send a check to Secret Smiles of Dayton, PO Box 291903. Dayton, Ohio 45429.