Eighteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, Waverly marked the somber anniversary with an uplifting initiative — a Day of Caring.
It was a symbolic affirmation that in the long run, the spirit of volunteerism and good doing had triumphed over the forces of darkness and destruction.
Waverly has a sad tie to the tragic events of 9/11, as one of the town’s own, Karen Kincaid, a 1979 W-SR grad, a lawyer, a wife, a sister, and a daughter, was among the passengers on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.
A memorial plaque outside the high school, dedicated to Kincaid, and another one, in memory of Spc. Donny Nichols, the Shell Rock son who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011, in Operation Enduring Freedom, are a daily reminder of the sacrifice of local families and their enduring loss.
Another Waverly resident, Cal Corson, a retired co-owner of Kaiser-Corson Funeral Homes, helped immediately after the terrorist attack with the forensic identification of the victims as a member of a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team.
On Wednesday, hundreds of volunteers converged on the Waverly Area Veterans Post to put their hearts and hands to work in appreciation of the peaceful life they live and in an effort to lend a helping hand to those in need.
Spearheaded by The Accel Group, in partnership with the W-SR Area United Way, the inaugural Day of Caring was an invitation to engage the community in worthwhile deeds.
Around 8 a.m., the line of volunteers wearing the signature Live United blue shirts wound around the hallways at the veterans post.
In a spirited speech, Patrick Feldhake, the local United Way board and campaign chairman, saluted the volunteers for their commitment to their community.
“You are here because you said three words,” he said. “I will help.”
Drawing a connection between the selfless dedication of thousands of first responders who helped in the aftermath of 9/11, and the good will that propelled the volunteers to launch the Day of Caring in Waverly, Feldhake said it was the willingness to help that unites a community of helpers.
“‘I will help,’ that right there is what we did 18 years ago,” he said. “Yes, we are here to remember 9/11. It’s just as important to live those three words in our daily life. As Americans, we make a difference because of these three words.”
A moment of silence followed, paying homage to the lives lost on 9/11, and a prayer Chris Meyer, the principal at St. Paul’s Lutheran School, brought solemnity to the moment.
Traci Magsamen, of The Accel Group, the dynamo behind the event and its originator, thanked everyone for their energy and willingness to make a difference.
Fittingly, the high school band led by W-SR’s Jim Vowels motivated the teams with a rendition of “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful” and the school song, played to the tune of the “Illinois Loyalty.” The songs got the hands clapping and the feet tapping, readying everyone to get to work.
And they did.
The rain notwithstanding, a group of undaunted volunteers headed to St Joseph Catholic Cemetery on the edge of Waverly, where they raked some soil that had been recently seeded.
As the rain broke, kids from St. Paul’s School delivered food to the local food bank.
A group led by Kristi Demuth, of American Family Insurance, collected and donated pillows to Friends of the Family, the women’s shelter.
Other acts of kindness also took place. Romeo Djoumessi, of Re/Max Realty, delivered cookies to B.E. Mick’s owner Bob Mick and staff member Beth Stevens.
At the East Bremer Diner, a group from CUNA Mutual employees gave away certificates to customers. Further down the street at Be Unique, the recently opened art studio and craft consignment store, owner Christi Wedeking helped volunteers paint rocks with inspirational messages.
“At CUNA, we help as much as possible with United Way, and we were all very happy to volunteer any way we can,” said Mary Downs, one of the volunteers, as she painted a rock which would say, “W-SR 2025,” the year her daughter would graduate from high school.
At the high school, students in Mrs. Megan Epley’s class created memento pieces for the nurses at the NICU at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, where Epley’s nephew, born on the 4th of July, is being cared for.
In Mme. Judith Strottman’s classroom later in the day, students wrote cards with positive messages to students in El Paso, Texas, where the community is grappling with grief after a mass shooting on Aug. 3.
Some of the projects, which involved staining of the rail trail bridges, had to be postponed because of the rain.
The energy spread around by the teams made it clear early on that the Day of Caring is not just a one-time event, but rather, an initiative which will be carried on every year with unabated dedication, said Ty Burke, of The Accel Group.
“We love everything about the Day of Caring and want it to serve as a catalyst to help facilitate an annual event,” Burke said. “Everything we are as a company, is derived from the people who work for and with us and the communities we serve.
“The ability to care for each other and for others is our highest calling and a true measure for our success.”
When it was all said and done, Waverly showed its true colors of caring on the 18th anniversary of 9/11.
As the day wound down, Feldhake’s words, spoken at the start of the project as a wish, filled with deep meaning.
“I ask you today and every day to turn the memory of 9/11 into a day of I will help,” he said.