It was a day like no other.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, as planes hijacked by terrorists were headed to the Twin towers, the Pentagon and Washington, at the office of the Waverly paper, a twice weekly with two mastheads-- the Bremer County Independent and the Waverly Democrat-- the news reporting work for that day was already done.

As was--and still is the case--the paper had gone to press late Monday afternoon. 

A staple in the community since 1856, through many iterations of names and design changes, at the time, the paper had recently moved its printing to Oelwein, after the press shop adjacent to the Waverly newsroom had been closed. 

The ready pages, composed and edited in Waverly, were copied to a disk and driven to Oelwein by an employee.

At the time, newspapers were just beginning to wake up to the potential of the internet, and like its peers, the Waverly newspaper barely had a shingle in the online space. 

Its physical location, at 311 W. Bremer Avenue, was its main presence, the place where readers sent letters about editorials, dropped off hard copies of anniversaries and pictures, bought extra issues that featured the Go-Hawk team or simply stopped by the front to chat with the receptionist.

Looking at the Sept. 11, 2001 front page 20 years later is as telling as it is nostalgic. 

Because of the publication deadlines, instead of the tragedy that changed the world that day, it captures the last day of the town’s pre-9/11 innocence. 


It is everything one would expect a small town newspaper to be--filled with community news and happenings. On top, it features a tornado touchdown story and a human interest companion piece of a mini tornado, which barely missed a brand new home. A spotlight photo told readers of an accomplishment of a postal worker, Julie Boomgarden, who had the top honor in her line of work. And the briefs in the vertical left column, informed of the meetings of local groups, like Support and Recovery, the local chapter of the American Red Cross, and a hunter’s safety course, among others. The last line in that column, used perhaps to fill the awkward space on the bottom of the page, read: “Have a nice day!”

Instead, Sept.11, 2001, was a cataclysmically tragic day. What was lost on then would never be regained, but the front page with that date would be a reminder of the contrast between what could have been an uneventful news day and a catastrophe of global scope.

Before the Sept. 11 edition of the paper would be delivered to subscribers later that day, readers had already witnessed in real time the burning towers, their collapse and the ensuing horror. Few had had time to wrap their minds around the tragedy, and the fact that in the midst of it, human beings had succumbed to the raging inferno.

By any measure, it was too much to bear, but unavoidable, and it was the job of the media to tell that story. 

AT THE WAVERLY PAPER THAT DAY



On that day the news editor, Jori Wade-Booth, a 24-year-old who had recently joined the paper, found herself face to face with world history.


She hadn’t bargained for that when just a few months earlier she had applied to be a reporter at the paper, but then her publisher and managing editor, Greg Sieleman, hired her as the news editor instead.  

Seeing the images of terror unfold that morning, Wade-Booth rushed to the newspaper office.

There, she found the staff gathered at Sieleman’s office, riveted to the television set there, in total consternation.

“We came in the office and sat stunned, and watched the news and tried to figure out how to cover this locally, what do we do?” Booth-Wade recalled.

Exactly what transpired that day in the newsroom is left to memory, but it is clear that all heads, hearts and hands were on deck to catch up with the news, make sense of it, and strike the right tone to relay it to the community. 

To the outsider, it may appear that the staff had two days to prepare the next edition, Sept. 13, but especially in a small publication, big events present a challenge for access and resources, among others. 

The front page of Sept. 13, 2001, is actually the page that covers 9/11. It reflects the outcome of the editorial decisions in the short time the staff had to find local dimensions of the news, but it does not capture the behind-the-scenes work accomplished by a tandem of young journalists -- Wade-Booth and a Wartburg College intern, Katie Schatz, now Katie Ferrie, whose byline says “staff writer”-- as well as  another writer, Matt Voss, a recent graduate of Iowa State University.

Self-reliant and quick on their feet, the journalists knew their job was to localize the coverage. 

Wade-Booth called it a “defining moment.”

But daily life was happening alongside 9/11, so that, too, had to be covered.

So Voss was tasked with reporting on other events, like school board news, and Sports Editor Dick Fridley focused on the district opener between the local team, the Go-Hawks, and the Vikings from Decorah, as well as the Waverly-Shell Rock volleyball squad grabbing a conference win.

At the news desk, Wade-Booth stared for a moment at her computer.

“How are we going to do this?” she kept wondering.

“Is this what I signed up for? I thought I was coming to a community newspaper… to talk about the people of Waverly and the surrounding communities, and it just completely changed in a short few months.”

She may not have signed up for this, but she was at the right place at the right time. Without extensive journalistic training, she still had a journalist’s DNA.

Pulling her inner strength together, Wade-Booth pushed through the frenzy of the moment and with fitting resourcefulness, she and Schatz mobilized their own networks to seek reactions in Waverly.

First, they went to the chapel at Wartburg College, where a prayer and reflection service was held, and gathered some comments from the students.

Pastor Larry Trachte, who led the service attended by approximately 400 members of the Wartburg and Waverly communities, had some comforting words.


“This is a day of stark contrast and terrible ironies,” Trachte said, as quoted in the Sept. 13, 2001, Waverly Democrat. (Watch this video to see how Pastor Trachte recalls this day 20 years later https://youtu.be/HzLEKazCtRM and https://youtu.be/Oc84OAEC76Y).

Among the quotes gathered by the reporters, three capture the mood of the moment.

“I was just starting to adjust here at Wartburg and this happened,” Angie Kohlhaas, a freshman, told the paper. “College doesn’t seem to be such a big deal now.”

Another freshman, Beth Schnebbe, added this:

“Before this, I felt we were invincible,” she said. “It just happens everywhere, not here.”

Fellow student Marcus Knecht, a sophomore, captured the disbelief many felt that day.

“I have a feeling of total surrealness,” he told the paper. “I’m glad I am living in Iowa.”

Even though they seemingly had more time until their next publication, the journalists had to work at great speed to prepare that edition.

“I pounded it out right in the design pages,” Wade-Booth recalled about writing her story.

The Sept. 13 front page features a hammerhead in red with the word IMPACT, and below it are two pictures --a local one from the vigil of a student being comforted and a wire image of the burning north Tower. 

Further down the page, the main story, “Waverly impacted by recent tragic events,” is double-bylined by Wade-Booth and Schatz.

“Tuesday, Sept. 11, started out as a normal day in Waverly,” it reads. “Students were seen walking to school, adults were heading to work and the sun was shining.

“Normal hardly describes the events that followed.”

The story then reports on the vigil at the college, and the reaction of officials reporters could get a hold of in the ensuing shock and chaos.



One of them, then-Bremer County Sheriff Dewey Hildebrandt, said plainly what analysts were later to repeat many times in various forums. 


“I am not surprised at all that we are again the victim of a terrorist attack. It’s been building to that,” he is quoted as saying. “Locally, we need to guard against copycat crimes. I don’t expect to see that around here, but we need to be aware.”

WAVERLY’S DAUGHTER KAREN KINCAID, who died at site of Pentagon crash, will be remembered: Name etched on 9/11 Memorial in New York and at the Pentagon, plaque in Waverly 

As it turned out in short order, Waverly would have a painfully visceral connection to that fateful day. 

One of its daughters, Karen Ann Kincaid, a passenger on Flight 77, had perished that day, along with other souls, when the hijackers crashed the American Airlines plane into the Pentagon. Her name was one of two made public on Tuesday night, the story says. 

For the Waverly newspaper reporters, it was not a national story anymore. It had hit right at the heart of Waverly. 

To include that story in the edition, Wade-Booth had to call the Des Moines Register and ask permission to run it, as the Waverly paper had no subscription to a wire service. 

That story headlined,”Waverly native killed in crash at Pentagon,” is reported in the bottom right corner of the Sept. 13, 2001 issue.

It was a 10-paragraph narrative, scrambled together, as such stories often are, by statements and as much information as could be pieced together by deadline.

With the benefit of hindsight today, here is who Waverly lost that day:

 At the time, Kincaid was survived by her husband, lawyer Peter Batacan; her brothers Kasey Kincaid, of Des Moines, and the Rev. Kristian Kincaid of Dubuque; and her sisters Kay D’Amico of Cedar Rapids and Karyl Kincaid-Noel of Waverly.

A 1986 Drake Law School graduate, and at the time a partner in the law firm Wiley, Rein and Fielding in Washington, D.C., Kincaid was also an adjunct professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D. C. 

She had joined the law firm in 1993, and prior to that had served for four years as a senior attorney-advisor for the Private Radio Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission.

In her career leading up to the law firm, where she achieved the status of partner, she had honed her skills in Iowa. She had clerked for Judge J. Smith Hensley of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit from 1987 to 1989, and prior to that, from 1986 to 1987, clerked  for Chief Judge Leo Oxenberger of the Iowa Court of Appeals, according to her bio on The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial website.

Even though she had a successful career in Washington, Kincaid always held Waverly close to her heart.  (Read more about her story in Sacred Ground: The ring that survived the inferno, recently originally published in the Waverly paper in 2011, and republished in this section). 

Her name is etched, along with the nearly 3,00 souls who perished that day, at the 9/11 Memorial in New York and at the Pentagon site.

In Waverly,  a modest plaque on the side of the school reminds walkers of her story, and from time to time, a teacher takes her students there to teach about 9/11. 

The paque reads:
“In Loving Memory of Karen Kincaid,

 W-SR Class of 1979,

And the Many Others Who Lost Their Lives

On that tragic day, September 11, 2001, 

Just Like This Tree, 

Their Memories Will Remain Implanted in

 Our Hearts Forever.”

SERVING IN THE AFTERMATH OF 9/11: Looking back 10, 20 years

Over the next few weeks after 9/11, the paper would report on the surge of patriotism in the community. 

That patriotism, Pastor Trache would tell me 20 years later, was rooted in unity.

A gathering on the front lawn of the courthouse the following week showed that momentum. The story published in the Sept. 18, 2001, issue of the Bremer County Independent was headlined,
“A day to remember: Community comes out in full force to observe day of remembrance.” 

Among the  community members there were Mrs. Pam Egli and her fourth-graders, with one student carrying the American flag. Other expressions of patriotism, like community vigils, and patriotic messages posted on businesses, also made local news.

That surge in patriotic response prompted Waverly historian and Wartburg professor Terry Lindell to start collecting 9/11-themed commercial pieces, which he eventually displayed in local presentations alongside a Pearl Harbor collection he had also  assembled. (You can read his story and watch his interview here. ttps://youtu.be/AA6Pb914Qs8)

COMMEMORATING 9/11: 10, 20 years later 

Anniversaries are inevitable.

They stir up old feelings, but also bring some order, perspective and peace to the uncontrollable event that made them a necessity.

They are a moment of reflection and reckoning, a solemn opportunity to teach new generations about the pain of a previous one and transmit knowledge, respect and appreciation for the sacrifices that happened. 

An anniversary is a tribute to yesterday and a therapeutic catharsis for today and tomorrow. 

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, as the editor of the Waverly paper, I attended, as a credentialed member of the media, the ceremony at Ground Zero.

(You can see the images I captured that day here https://youtu.be/_fDXChEjfY0)

A lot had changed in the country, in Waverly and at the paper in that time. A bigger online presence allowed the paper to tell stories digitally and in video. 

But the challenge of talking and thinking and marking the subsequent anniversaries of 9/11 remained.

As time paced forward, the thought of Waverly’s direct connection to 9/11 through the tragic loss of Karen Kincaid seemed to grow deeper. Eventually, I wrote a story about it on the 10th anniversary. (It is reprinted in this section).

In Waverly, where Kincaid’s plaque was eventually installed, there is another tribute memorial made of marble. It is for another W-SR graduate, Shell Rock’s son Donny Nichols. He was 21, and a member of the Waterloo Headquarters Company 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division. He served in Afghanistan and was killed on April 13, while on active duty in the Iowa Army National Guard. 

On April 23, 2011, thousands of friends, family, classmates, army buddies, and people who had never met Nichols but were deeply moved by his sacrifice lined up the Old Highway 63, carrying flags and paying their respects. The procession was headed by the Patriot Riders, and Nichols was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls  with full military honors conducted by the Waterloo Headquarters Company 1-133.  (Here is a video of the procession from 2011. Fallen but not forgotten: Thousands turn out to pay tribute to Donny Nichols )helping identify 

Meanwhile, at least two Waverly residents have also served in the aftermath of 9/11, in their respective capacities.  Their stories are told in this special edition. 

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I reported the story of Cal Corson, now a retired funeral home owner, who had worked with forensic teams in New York to help identify victims. A deeply sensitive storyteller, with an acute sense of the purpose of life, partly honed by his faith, partly by his profession, Corson  shared his story with me then. (It is reprinted here for the record and here is the video:   https://youtu.be/7J3o5dmMU8M))

Not long after the attacks, Wartburg professor Susan Kosche Vallem took on an assignment as a volunteer for the American Red Cross, helping everyday New Yorkers cope with the mental trauma of 9/11. I learned of her story as I was preparing the materials for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.(Her story is featured here in this edition and here is the video of the interview:https://youtu.be/qsiPPABvqUw)

Today, the Waverly paper is marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with this special section. 

It features originally written stories, along with some reprinted ones, to show how 9/11 impacted the lives of ordinary people and celebrate their resilience, their dignity, and their sense of duty to help others.

Among them is this story of how this paper covered 9/11.

I was lucky to interview Wade-Booth, the news editor at the time, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary.

Twenty years later and no longer in journalism, Wade-Booth is well known in the community, as a coach for the dance team and a professional woman. 

But she will never forget being thrust into the vortex of history to cover 9/11 as a young journalist at a community paper.


One of the big takeaways for me, looking back 20 years, is how a young team of journalists handled, with enterprise, energy and dedication a story of historic impact, and found its local resonance, all the while without missing a beat on the other daily stories as well.

In the interview, Wade-Booth told me that like those who lived through 9/11, she thinks about that moment of her career every year, as the respective anniversary approaches, showing that journalists, too, are impacted by the events they report on.

Married to a police officer, she had another worry on her mind at the time, and that worry has not subsided with time. 

“I remember the thing that was so emotional for me and watching all the footage was watching first responders, police officers and firemen running into the buildings or running towards the disaster as other people ran away,” she said.  “It was so far from where we were, but it was still so scary to think it was a reality that the person that I was married to was the person that ran toward the disaster. That was the first reality check for me.”