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Islanders reflect on 9/11 anniversary

By Staff | Sep 7, 2011

Ten years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, Lynn Ridlehoover was a teacher in Marietta, Ga. On that Tuesday morning, she recalled beginning the day with her kindergarten class.

And then, tragedy fell upon America.

“Word spread quickly, without bringing attention to the situation for fear that the children would be terribly upset,” said Ridlehoover. “Suddenly, parents were coming to check out their children, calmly and quickly.”

By 10 a.m., all of the children had departed from the school. It was at that point that the reality of the situation really began to sink in.

“Our world, as we knew it, was over,” she said.

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks arrives this weekend, the Island Reporter sought out the personal stories from some of Sanibel and Captiva’s citizens, community and business leaders, well known through their activities and actions.

Jean Baer said that she remembers that day “like it was yesterday,” meeting with the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce and a strategic planning consultant at ‘Tween Waters Inn.

“Anne Joffe walked in and said she had just heard on her radio that a plane had hit one of the towers,” Baer remembered. “Fifteen minutes later, an employee of the resort interrupted the meeting and suggested that we take a look at the story being broadcast live on the television. As we sat in awe watching this horrific situation unfold, it suddenly became clear that Sanibel and Captiva didn’t really have any challenges after all. What became evident is that we were part of a bigger challenge and one that would thrust our community into a time where we thought not just of ourselves, but rather of our neighbors and of our nation as a whole. I believe it made us all stronger and it has made our peaceful place in paradise even more sacred.”

Pastor Daryl Donovan of Sanibel Community Church remembers sitting in his office that morning and hearing reports of a “horrible accident” had happened at one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

“Soon, we realized it was no accident,” said Donovan. “As the twin towers came crashing down, it sent shock waves to the very core of my Christian faith.”

As one might expect from a man of faith, the incident made an immediate and indelible impact upon his life.

“I resolved in my heart that I would choose Christ’s way of love and that I would pray not only for those who had suffered devastating pain and loss, but that I would pray for those inflicting the pain as well,” said Donovan. “I realize the issues are complex and the motivation for power goes far beyond any religious convictions, but I remain convinced that the Jesus who is my Savior and friend continues to beckon me and empower me to love to pray to forgive.”

Patty Sprankle remembered the impact that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy had on her as a college freshman, which she eventually was able to move on from. However, what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 has left a deeper impression on her life.

“The visceral horror and shock I felt that morning has never completely left me when I think of 9/11,” said Sprankle. “And as we approach the 10th anniversary of that day, I can relive that vulnerability as if it were yesterday. Any clip of film that shows the towers going down makes me sick at heart and somewhat anxious. Every time I board a plane, I am aware that it could be the target of a terrorist attack in spite of all the precautions that have been taken. And always at the back of my mind, I recognize that our son – who lives in Washington, DC – could also be the victim of a terrorist attack just by virtue of living there.”

Sprankle also stated that, 10 years later, perhaps we are all more collectively vigilant than we had ever expected to be.

“Living on Sanibel, I feel safer from terrorism than I do anywhere else I travel, both in the U.S. and abroad. I am thankful that I can call this island refuge my home,” she added. “And that is a very big blessing.”

Dr. Jose H. Leal, director of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, explained that the events of 9/11 had a lasting effect on the business community of Sanibel and Captiva.

“Without even mentioning the devastating effects to the morale and sense of security of all citizens, the sheer loss of business caused by a sharp decrease in travel nationwide seriously affected local businesses and hospitality industry,” he said.

Ten years ago, Sanibel Planning Commissioner Chris Heidrick was working for Marsh & McLennan, whose offices were located in Tower 2.

“My division occupied the 49th floor of Tower 2. Other divisions of the company occupied the top 10 floors of Tower 1,” said Heidrick. “I was fortunate to be away on business that day and all of my colleagues in Tower 2 escaped unharmed. I remember returning to work in the city a week later and honestly believing that as the train approached Manhattan that the towers would still be standing like it was all a dream. While I still feel great remorse, I appreciate life much more since that day.”

Another former New Yorker, Islander columnist Art Stevens, recalled working at his office in Herald Square that morning. After receiving a phone call from his wife, and watching the news coverage on TV with his fellow co-workers, Stevens evacuated the building and began walking home to his Gramercy Park apartment.

“What will be indelibly impressed in my mind is the sight of millions of people walking through the streets of Manhattan trying to find a way to get home,” he said. “I lived a few blocks from the Armory on Lexington Avenue, where all the families of those still missing and unaccounted for posted photos on the Armory walls. What a distressing, traumatic event that was because almost all those missing were to perish.”

Jeanne Hamilton, one of the island’s driving forces behind the Southwest Florida Medical Reserve Corps training sessions, lived in Alexandra, Va. back then.

“I was working at the White House at that time and remember how different all the security was when I went back to work,” said Hamilton. “The first day I returned to work, the Metro was completely silent. Everyone was in a state of mourning. The eeriest part to me was the sound of military jets constantly circling the city. We often heard planes from National Airport, but this was so different.”

Hamilton explained that each year since 9/11, she and her husband have attended remembrances for the victims of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center attacks.

“We must never forget,” she added.

Sanibel Public Library employee Cathy Cangelosi recalled taking her niece and nephews to their bus stop in Chicago, Ill. when she heard the news.

“The impact brought into perspective the patriotism we each need to display a little stronger,” said Cangelosi. “It gave me a higher level of respect and pride in our public service workers our firemen and policemen – and the true dedication to their jobs and their families and friends that they show every day. I thank God for my family and my friends and the life we are able to live in this country. I look at our military with a new respect and gratitude for their time and efforts in offering their service to protect our country and our personal rights.”

Through all of the stories shared and reflections on the tragedy told, what happened upon this country a decade ago will not soon be forgotten. Nor should it, some say.

“I am thankful to be on Sanibel and have some of the most dedicated police officers and firemen,” added Ridlehoover. “We have city officials who recognize the importance of these essential workers and I hope – in days to come – that other cities and states will recognize this, too.”

On Sunday, Ridlehoover added that she will go to the beach with friends and quietly remember what happened 10 years ago.

“This is still one of the saddest days in my life,” she added.