Never Forget

September 11, 2001 is a day that American history will never forget. For Nicole and Matt Kivisto, this day will always hit harder than others.


Logan Schaubert, Sports Editor

Family. The Kivisto family were very fortunate that Nicole was safe on that terrible day. People did not expect it was a terrorist attack in New York when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, but those thoughts quickly changed as the day progressed. “I didn’t really know at first,” Matt said. “When the second one hit, I think, that’s when it started to clue in and when we saw how big of planes they were. I don’t really remember for sure because my only focus was my wife was supposed to be down there.”

When people think of travesties in the United States, it would not be long till September 11, 2001 came on the list. Nicole Kivisto, mother of BHS seniors Cade, Jayden and Lucas Kivisto, was in New York City that terrifying morning.

Nicole was 29 years old at the time and was in Investor Relations for MDU Resources, which she still works for today. Nicole was in New York City because she and a few of her coworkers were going to have a meeting with potential investors and equity analysts that morning at 9:30 a.m. 

¨I got in the night before, and that morning I was getting up and our CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) were at a different meeting,¨ Nicole said. ¨They went to a special place to have the special board meeting and they were in this meeting. I was getting ready because, quite interestingly enough, our meeting would have been right across the street from the World Trade Center. So, I was getting ready and I had the T.V. on in the background, and all of a sudden they’re making some announcement like the World Trade Center has been hit.¨

Like most Americans that day, once the report of the plane hitting the WTC, many people were glued to their televisions. 

¨I had the news going already, so basically the minute it happened they interrupted the show,¨ Nicole said. ¨I think I was watching the Today Show. They interrupted it and said a plane had hit the tower, and my initial reaction was Holy Cow. I thought it was an accident. I mean, who thinks this would be somebody attacking our country on purpose? I mean, it doesn’t even cross your mind, and so right away I’m like ‘Oh, my gosh, this is terrible.’ I, of course, right away was going to ‘holy cow there are people in that building. What’s going to happen here? This is scary.¨

At 8:46 a.m. that morning, the north tower was hit. It was not until 9:03 a.m. when the south tower was struck. Those 17 minutes in-between the plane crashes, Nicole remembers trying to get in contact with her coworkers.   

¨I called the operator to get my coworkers room number, and then once I had that, I remember trying to call her,¨ Nicole said. ¨I couldn’t get through to her. I thought ‘even if only one [tower] was hit, are we still really gonna go downtown and go to a meeting across the street?’ All that is going through my head, and I’m like ‘we have got to get organized here.¨

At 9:03 a.m. that morning, the south WTC tower was hit. At that moment, Nicole remembers all hell broke loose. 

¨At that point, all the phone lines were tied up,¨ Nicole said. ¨I’d pick up the phone, [and I heard] a busy signal. You just couldn’t get through. I left my room then to try to find my coworker. I went down into the lobby area. People are everywhere. They are screaming. They are shouting and bawling, and it was just – you can’t even imagine. I think I connected with her down there and I started trying frantically to get a hold of our other two, our CFO and CEO. We were able to connect with them, and then we all agreed to meet back at the hotel.¨

Matt Kivisto, Nicole’s husband, was home in Bismarck and at work at NISC (National Information Solutions Cooperative) when he heard the news of the terrorist attacks. 

¨Last I heard, she was supposed to be downtown for a meeting in the morning,¨ Matt said. ¨So I didn’t really put it together until after we knew what was going on at work. She did call me in between hearing about the first plane, and the second plane from one of her coworker´s cell phones. She said ‘I’m in an elevator, everything’s fine, but I have to go. I’ll call you later.’ And that was it, and [she] hung up.¨

No one could have imagined what was going to happen next once the towers were hit, but at 9:59 a.m. that morning, the unthinkable happened. The south tower collapsed onto the people and streets in New York City.

¨The visual that haunts me the most is that when we got to the hotel,¨ Nicole said. ¨We went up to our CEO´s room. We were all just in disbelief. ¨’What do we do? How do we get out of here?’¨ The company had a plane, but they grounded corporate aircraft too. And so we were trying to figure out ‘well do we get a private car and start driving out of here?’ We called the rentals, and people were taking rentals like crazy. You couldn’t get a rental car. It was unbelievable. We were frantically trying to make all these calls, but also just trying to get a plan together. … We were just watching the smoke and looking up. And there´s frantic people in these buildings, and all of a sudden these towers just start collapsing. That’s the haunting thing. I will never forget that.¨

Matt tried frantically to get ahold of Nicole after the second tower was hit but was not able too. Once he had learned that one of the towers had collapsed, Matt feared the worst.

¨I didn’t know what was going on, and I didn’t know where she was,¨ Matt said. ¨I hadn’t heard from her. She wasn’t calling me back, which I found out later was because the phone lines and everything were down because everybody was trying to call and whatnot. And so I was just thinking ‘Christ, I could be a single parent.’ I was just kind of in shock. I just kind of sat there and refreshed my screen trying to get updates.¨

Nicole and her coworkers stayed in their room after the south tower fell. They could not go anywhere, they could not call anyone, and they did not know what to do or where to go. 

¨When we were in that room that day in particular, it was literally eerily silent,¨ Nicole said. ¨Nobody knew what to say. We were all just sitting there at a point almost so beside ourselves that this was happening in our country that we couldn’t even get to the point of getting together a plan. I remember we left the room that day, and we hardly even talked about how we were going to get out of the city. That discussion didn’t really start until the next day. I think we were all just in such shock. I remember praying a lot in my head and just [being] in shock. You couldn’t even believe it.¨

Nicole’s personal viewpoint was not like the scenes everyone has seen on television. Her hotel was a ways away from the towers, but she will never forget the faces of the local New Yorkers that she saw on that terrible day. 

¨Our meeting was going to be across the street from the Twin Towers,¨ Nicole said. ¨Our hotel was quite a distance from there. We were going to have to get a car to take us into town. Where we were, there was a lot of commotion, but there wasn’t what you saw on the news. We were not close enough to the scene to see all the hoards of people running in the streets trying to get out of there. There were people in the streets where we were, but they weren’t running from the buildings. They were more just in shock. Thatś what I would describe it. Horror is probably the word I would use. What I really observed the most were the locals. You could tell if somebody was local. We were in this lobby area of the hotel, and it had a restaurant in the front part. That’s where I met up with my coworker, and we were trying to get a plan. The bartender in this restaurant was on the phone. And I don’t know if he found out somebody he knew died or he found out they were in the building, but he literally just bent and collapsed on the counter and was just hollering. That was the scene. Every time you turned around, somebody else was getting a call. It was just terrible.¨

Like many people in New York City that day, death had come across the minds of many at some point during the day. This was no different for Nicole, who also at one point feared for her own life. 

¨I think for me it was mostly when I did not know if it was over,¨ Nicole said. ¨My mind went to ‘this is an act of terrorism,’ and then you heard about the Pentagon and all of these things. Again, probably when I had the most fear of my own mortality [was]between the time that I determined in my head this was a terrorist attack and probably for around 48 hours. By then, I kind of had myself calmed down that in my own head. I did a lot of praying, and you know I am a believer. So I was like ‘if this is my time, then this is my time, and Thy Will Be Done.’ I’ve used that a lot in my life. I got a sense of peace that this isn’t in my control, and that somebody else has got control of this.¨

It was not till 3:30 that afternoon that Nicole was able to get a hold of Matt. Those moments prior were very stressful for the both of them due to the fear of the unknown. Nicole stayed strong for most of the day but did have a couple breakdowns when she would think about her family.

¨I couldn’t get through to him. The lines were down,¨ Nicole said. ¨We had been down in the lobby. It had been probably two to three hours after. Matt is sitting at home wondering what the hell, and my mom too was frantic because I couldn’t get through. When I finally got through, all I was able to get out, because our line got disconnected, was ‘I’m safe and I’m in an elevator.’  When I hung up there too, I think it hit me a little bit hard. My daughter was sitting at home. ‘What if I never see her and my husband again?’ It was going through my head a little bit then. I quickly flip to thank God. This isn’t in your control, and you can sit here and worry all night and day or whatever and it’s not going to change the outcome. I mean, it’s already determined. So I kind of got myself calmed down, but certainly that went through my head because I didn’t know if it was over. I mean, ‘is the attack over? Are they going to bomb the city?’ I mean at this point your mind can really do tricks on you.¨

Back home, Matt was finally able to relax a little bit when he had finally got in contact with Nicole again that afternoon. Neither of them though, like most Americans, were able to sleep well that night.

¨The first night I sat up and watched CNN (Cable News Network) till like 3:00 in the morning,¨ Matt said. ¨I just watched all the stuff coming in and all the different reports. She had called me again that night, and she chatted about things and how horrible it was.¨

Nicole and her coworkers were not able to leave NYC for a couple days, as all the airports had been shut down. They decided they wanted to help in any way they could to make a difference during this terrible catastrophe.

¨None of us probably slept, but we agreed that we were going to do anything that we could to try to help because we knew we weren’t going to get out of there,¨ Nicole said. ¨’So let’s go find a blood service and donate blood and try to figure out how we can help.’ The next day when we woke up, we went outside to see if we could find a place to donate blood, and there wasn’t a soul. I mean, I have never seen NYC- to this day I have gone back multiple times- I have never seen it like that. There wasn’t a car on the streets. There wasn’t a person to be found. We literally walked around aimlessly. We were just at a loss. We finally found a place that we thought we could donate. We were told we would be standing there basically the whole day if we wanted to donate blood. There were that many people that were willing to help. One of the things that I reflect on, like a lot of people do, is how America came together right after this.¨

Nicole and her coworkers were finally able to get out of New York after a long week of sleepless nights and fear of the unknown. This was a relieving moment for her and her family that she was coming home.

¨Ultimately, we ended up getting out of there about a week later,¨ Nicole said. ¨We ended up actually having to hire a private car to drive us to Ohio. And then in Ohio, for whatever reason, at that point they had cleared the airspace for, not commercial flights, not corporate flights, but private flights. We had to hire a private company to come pick us up, and we all flew back in that. We ended up not having enough fuel to get back to ND, so we had one stop. I’ll never forget the first stop when we touched down to refuel. I literally thought I was going to kiss the pavement. I was just happy to be out of New York City.¨

When Nicole was finally able to reunite with her family in Bismarck, it was a special moment that her and Matt will never forget. 

¨There were lots of big hugs and big cries,¨ Matt said. ¨It was tough.¨

Nicole has since been able to go back to New York City multiple times due to work. She admits that it was difficult to go back to the location of the attacks during her first few trips.

¨It hit me the first time I flew back to NYC two years after the attack,¨ Nicole said. ¨It hit me then, and then the second time I went back, we went to the memorial. That was very tough –  seeing all those names and remembering I was there. I remember staring at the stone. I remember thinking about all these people. This was somebody’s mother, somebody’s kid. It’s just devastating. And then you turn on some of the survivorś guilt a little bit. Why did I survive and this person had to die? What came out of such a tragedy is that the American people persevered. They came together. Those are the things we need to remember as a country., sometimes especially in light of the current environment we are in.¨

Every year when 9/11 roles around, Nicole always reflects on what happened that day and how she is very lucky to be alive. 

¨I think the first thing that I think about is the people that perished,¨ Nicole said. ¨Normally, it’s the people first, and then secondarily, it’s probably how fortunate I am. I think the thing that I always come back to on that day is [America’s] vulnerability – [the idea that] something like this could happen. Sometimes, I think, as Americans, you grow up thinking we are a tough nation and we have all these resources – that this could never happen. It might have been my age, where all the stories you hear about the wars that Americans have fought, and what we have done, and what we have been through, I never thought that something like this could happen on our homeland. Every year, my first thought goes to the families that were devastated and the lives lost. Another thing is just that you never know. Obviously, there have been several things that have happened in my life that have reminded me that you should never take life for granted. You should enjoy every day you get.¨

Everyone in America learned a lesson in life that day. Never take life for granted, and always tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Nicole, who is now a mother of four wonderful children, will say that 9/11 shaped her into the person she is today.

¨I think there are life lessons in tragedy, and there are things you can learn too,¨ Nicole said. ¨You always wish you didn’t have to have the tragedy to have the lesson, but sometimes that again, [goes] back to God’s plan. For me, that incident for me at that time was a reminder of how precious life is. Because, again, at that age you think you are kind of invincible. These kinds of things are a quick reminder that you never do know. Quit fretting the small stuff. Focus on being kind, paying it forward and counting your blessings instead of always thinking about what’s wrong. I think that is one thing that it did. In terms of my job, how it shaped me there, just like other things, I wouldn’t say it was solely just this, but life is going to throw you some punches. This obviously was kind of a little bit of a punch at the time. I didn’t know if I was going to get home. I didn’t know when I was going to get home, but you have to get off the floor and pick yourself up and persevere. And I think this was one of those lessons. I’ve had many examples of that too all throughout your life, and so it happened 19 years ago where I have had to hit the floor a couple times, But you have to pick yourself up and plow forward, and you have to persevere.¨