Sept. 10, 2001 was a beautiful day in New York City, Don Batke recalls – blue skies, sunny.
Batke, at the time Strongsville's finance director, and other local officials had offered to travel to New York on Sept. 11 to meet with an executive at Moody’s Investors Services.
“He’d been on vacation in Europe the previous week, and we thought we’d give him a day to catch his breath,” Batke said. “But his secretary said no, Monday the 10th was fine.”
It was the first of two twists of fate that would keep Batke and his colleagues out of the path of terrorists' planes on Sept. 11.
After the meeting, the Strongsville group went to the World Trade Center, then had lunch outside at a nearby bistro to enjoy the fine weather.
The group, which included the late Mayor Walter Ehrnfelt, former Econcomic Development Director Gene Magocky and Matt Stuczynski, a financial advisor, got an early start to the airport for their flight home.
But thunderstorms in Toronto delayed their plane to the point they decided if it didn't arrive in another 20 minutes, they would spend the night in the Millennium Hotel, across from the Twin Towers.
"Fortunately, our plane arrived," Batke said. "Otherwise, we would have been right in the mix."
Arriving at Cleveland Hopkins after midnight, they made plans to meet in Ehrnfelt's office the next morning to go over more details of the New York trip.
Instead, they spent the morning watching TV, like everyone else.
'We Were Blessed'
But their horror as they watched was mixed with a surreal sense of disbelief -- the building they had been in less than 24 hours earlier was gone, the people they had just seen were in grave danger, and it was only by the slimmest chance they themselves were not walking through the financial district when the planes slammed into the Twin Towers.
"I guess we were blessed," said Batke, who is now retired. "God was looking down on us."
He, Ehrnfelt and Magocky would often talk about the events of that Sept. 10, wondering why they had been kept out of harm's way.
"We came so close to staying," Batke said.
He came away from the 9/11 tragedy with a new perspective.
"You want to take a step back, take a breath, take a little time to look around and enjoy what's there, because you may never see it again," he said. "You stop and say wow -- things can change so quickly."