Life was changing.
Shortly after August turned September in 2001, The Herald Republican was about to do something it had never done before, not as the Steuben Republican, The Angola Herald or the Herald-Republican.
We were about to become a daily newspaper for the first time since the paper’s inception — the Steuben Republican, that is — in 1857.
I believe it was on Aug. 15, 2001, that the sale of the Herald Republican to Kendallville Publishing Co. was complete. The goal was to take the Herald to a daily paper on Sept. 5, 2001, just three short weeks after the sale.
Crazy, I thought then, and, looking back, I was right. It was definitely going to be life changing.
These things never work as planned, so we continued to publish only twice a week one week longer than the powers that be at now-KPC had wanted. So the launch would be on Sept. 12, 2001.
When we arrived at work on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, the IT guy, Ron Croy, (who had been all but sleeping in Angola for days as he worked to get our new system up and running) was there, moving along at a methodical pace to get the final this and the final that running.
So, here we are, switching from a PC system to a Macintosh in one day after having spent the past three weeks getting our system to talk with the one in Kendallville so we could produce a paper. Now we were going to Macs, something none of us had worked on before.
To make sure the transition went smoothly, George Haynes, our wire editor and chief copy editor, was stationed in Angola to help us along that day.
Right before 9 a.m., Mary Jo VonEwegen, our circulation manager, called me.
“Mikey! I just got off the phone with my mom. An airplane struck a building in New York!”
“What’s your mom watching? That couldn’t have happened. A jet?”
“No, a small plane.”
“OK,” I said, then ended the conversation.
I told George about the call and he said the folks on deadline in Kendallville would catch anything that was serious on the wire.
I leaned over to my credenza and turned on my radio to National Public Radio (we didn’t have a television in the newsroom at the time), just in time to hear about the second plane hitting the other tower at the World Trade Center.
“Holy s---,” I said.
“I better call Kendallville,” George responded.
The folks at The News Sun were able to hold the paper — we published in the afternoon in those days — and get a few photos and stories in about this horrendous day, a moment in history many of us will never forget.
Things got crazy in the newsroom that morning. How do we localize this? Well, let’s see what the schools are doing with the kids. Are they locked down? Are they sending kids home? Are our police doing anything? What about local government? There’s traffic on the police scanner about a small aircraft circling around in the Hamilton area. He’s not responding to radio messages now that all air space is closed in the United States. There’s talk about shooting him out of the sky. (Finally, the radio-less pilot lands; he was up in the air taking photos of farms.)
We still didn’t have our system up and running, so George offered to take me to Kendallville to try to get some work done and learn more about these Macs.
“You can ride with me,” George said.
As we headed west on U.S. 6, it dawned on me that I didn’t have a ride back to Angola. My phone was ringing. Gas has shot through the roof, reporter Paul Fletcher says. (It went up to something like $1.78.) There’s going to be a vigil on the Public Square. This is happening and that is happening.
In Kendallville it was so chaotic that the best way to describe what I saw first was like seeing a swarm of ants at a picnic, feasting on a slice of watermelon.
I don’t know if I would say the folks in the newsroom and adjoining departments were in a panic, but there was a palpable fear about the place; you could feel it in the air.
Eventually I got a ride back to Angola. Eventually our computers were working. Eventually we would start writing. My very capable staff had put together some excellent local copy about 9/11, in addition to all of the stories they had been working on for our launch of the first daily Herald Republican. Our computers worked and we were finally linked with Kendallville, something that’s gone on for 20 years a few weeks ago.
I stayed into the evening and went out to the Square for the vigil at the Steuben County Courthouse. I walked outside our front door and there was Dale Hughes Jr., holding the hand of Emilyn Hughes, his beloved wife, as the service was about to begin. Dale grabbed my hand, and perhaps it felt equally weird to both of us as he let go quickly.
To be honest, I don’t remember the entire service. I may have gone back in to the office. Don’t know. I watched coverage of the attack on America all night long.
The next day, we were back at it at about 4:30 a.m., cranking out the copy, preparing our first daily Herald Republican. We made deadline. I didn’t get to run all of my local stories that we had prepared for that first day. Oh, well.
Later on, Terry Housholder would arrive and we walked around to various government offices, delivering the first copy of the daily Herald. We had our photo taken with numerous officials, including one that ended up hanging in the lobby of Applebee’s for a number of years.
As I walked around with Terry, I was in a daze. I was worried about what would go in tomorrow’s paper — not next week’s — and my brain could not wrap around, still, what happened out East. I needed some sleep.
Life was changing.