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2996 Tribute: A. Todd Rancke

I’m certain his day probably started out like every other work day. September 11, 2001. The sky was clear, and the sun’s reflection likely shimmered all over the windows of his building, World Trade Center South, on the 104th floor, in the office of Sandler O’Neill & Partners. Do I know Todd Rancke? I never met him, which is certainly my loss. I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about this man because of the tragic event that drew Americans together that day. I hope I can do some justice in sharing what I know about Todd through the posts and memorials I read about him. On the highest level, Todd was a husband, a father, a brother, a friend. It’s evident he touched many lives well before his tragic passing on 9/11. He is survived by his wife, Deborah; his daughters, Christina and Brittany; his son, Todd; two sisters, Pamela Rancke Schroeder and Cynthia Rancke Biennmann and many other family and friends.

When family and friends heard of the attacks, and knew that Todd would be in the building, they called him to see if he was okay and to also encourage him to evacuate to safety.

When we heard of the attacks and knew his office was located in one of the Towers-we immediately called him and heard a busy signal or got connected into his voicemail. We left several messages asking him to call us back-hoping he was running behind schedule — late for work that day.

Todd was on the phone with his wife, Debbie, when the first plane hit One World Trade Center, the other tower. He had called, as he did daily, at about 8:45 a.m. to wish her and their three children a good day, and he told her about the plane crash.

I called Todd shortly before 9:00 a.m. to check on him. He described a “smoky ticker-tape parade” outside of his window. He had just finished speaking with his wife, Debbie, on the phone and was obviously aware of the plane crash in the North Tower. Todd said that he was alright and that the public address system in the building had advised that they were safe. He had decided to stay in the building. I told him to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, and with that he spoke to me for the very last time and said “thanks for thinking of me buddy.”

Deborah’s statement to those watching an episode of “60 Minutes” soon after 9/11, as she continued the search for her husband: “please find him — he’s my whole life.”

Todd had a strong impact on many during his life.

Todd was always an awesome guy, popular with everyone. I knew Todd as a Christian young man, and I know in later years he grew to become an influential part of the church we spent all those youthful years in. I remember church youth group, watching Todd play sports in school, and school student coucil. He was always involved!

I spent that summer babysitting for Todd’s two beautiful little girls, Christina and Brittany…At the time Mrs. Rancke was pregnant with little Todd. I remember the girls would be so excited at the end of the day when their dad would arrive home from work. They would always ask me if it was “the weekend yet” because that was when they had dad for a full two days…I also remember how very happy he was the day his son was born. I remember he gave his wife flowers that day and the card read “thank you for our beautiful son”…that always stuck with me. He was such a nice man and a great father.

I know he’s looking down at us and is frustrated at not being able to take our sadness away-he was such a cheerful soul. I think he would like us to remember him with a smile, and as a loving husband and father more than for his working role (although he was very good at what he did). Again, I am convinced he has not entirely left us and am comforted by it.

Todd had a teasing sense of humor that played on people’s flaws but did not generate any ill will, said his sister, Cindy Bienemann. “He could crack on you in a way without making you feel bad,” she said.

Todd was a Duke graduate, earning his degree in ‘81. Todd’s sister Pamela, also a Duke graduate, shared these thoughts about Todd - thoughts that really helped me better understand how great a loss it is that he is gone:

Duke was so special to Todd. He was married in the Duke Chapel. Our family was there for that, and to have had a wedding down there was special. His in-laws live outside of Durham, about a half an hour out, so he was able to come back to Duke quite often, and go to Chapel.

Duke was a special place. He had a lot of great memories. He did meet Debbie there—she did not go to Duke, she went to another school in Carolina. Then they met seven years later on a business trip; they were both up in Canada and saw each other again. The wedding was beautiful.

It was always a special place, to have a wedding there, and to go back and go to Easter Sundays there, and I think Todd was lucky that his in-laws lived there, he could just go back and walk around and share with his kids and go to Chapel and go to baseball games. For his children to run on the quad with their cousin—it’s just such a special place.

Debbie just told me that somebody is getting her tickets to a Duke basketball game (in New York) with the children. The kids were all telling me that they’re going to a Duke basketball game. He used to take them to that game. He was a big fan.

His sister also reflects on life without Todd in their lives.

Still, when I see things on TV, I still will sit there and the tears just come. It’s going to take us a very long time to realize that they’re truly gone. They’re young, and he was just so full of life, and with his children… it just breaks your heart to see those children. It’s just sad how their lives have changed so quickly. They’ll be okay—hopefully they’ll be okay. They would ride bikes with him, he could take them everywhere, he’d bring them to the football games, he’d bring them anywhere with them on his back, he coached the basketball, he coached the soccer… he was really a hands-on father.

Little Todd, when something comes up, I can see him wipe at his eye, and I think he’s afraid a tear might come and he can’t go there. We’re surrounding them. Debbie, she doesn’t think she can do it but I’ve told her, you can do this.

Todd was full of life. And he danced. We teased him about that, because our husbands can’t dance. His sisters loved to dance with him.

A former classmate and roommate at Duke hadn’t been in touch with Todd for awhile, but Todd’s passing left a lasting impression on him.

I somehow feel his death places a greater responsibility on me to live my life—and maybe on you, too. I now understand—really understand—that tomorrow may not come, and that what I do today needs to be done so that I have no regrets if there is no next day.

How? First, I must pursue the career, the activities, and the people that evoke passion in me. It is so easy to fall into a career, for example, that is comfortable, or begets comforts, yet is uninspiring. I was trained to achieve, to succeed, and the process of getting there was of secondary importance. September 11 and Todd’s death make that not good enough any more.

Second, I need to do more to nurture my relationships, because I know more than ever that it’s the people in my life that make it special. Todd was one of those people, but we both let things fade as we pursued career and family on opposite sides of the country. I wish I’d called.

The final realization I have is the need to make sure I’m giving something back to others. Todd gave me a lot—he was upbeat, enthusiastic, and nonjudgmental. That he should be taken away, that someone so positive should disappear for no good reason, leaves me grasping for a way to fill the void. As I look now at my two-year-old son, so excited by each day, so constantly curious, I’m reminded to do more for those around me. I have no illusions about changing the world, but rather the need to make sure I’m doing my part to make it better.

I think his thoughts hit home with me and why I feel loss for a victim of this attack that I’ve never even met.

Why did Todd not survive that day? The family and others who knew him believe that, despite being urged by his wife to escape, it’s likely the Eagle Scout chose to help others get out of the doomed skyscraper. It sure seems that how he lived likely influenced him to help others live that day. Todd was a hero, but likely never thought twice about getting others to safety.

Being so far away from the tragedy here in the Midwest, emotions were raw and people were deeply affected.

The Rancke’s pastor, Richard Kannwischer, summed up the confusion, the sadness, the grief and, yet, the hope we all had that day…

The last house I went to was of a good friend and elder, Todd Rancke. The door to the house was open and I walked into the entryway. Because I am about the same height as Todd, his wife, Debbie, mistook me for her husband. With relief she sprang up to hug me, but reality slowly crept in. She collapsed in my arms, saying, “Oh, my God! I thought you were Todd. I thought he came home! Where’s Todd? You’ve got to find him.” I have never felt more helpless as a pastor.

Todd, the husband, the father, the brother, the uncle, the Eagle Scout, the church elder, the hero…Heaven became an even better place the day Todd arrived. I can only hope and pray that God has laid His healing hands upon Todd’s family and friends so they can have some peace in their hearts. I know I cannot begin to understand their loss, but in writing this tribute to him, I have done a bit of grieving on my own…me, a perfect stranger.

I knew no one who died on that day, but it has profoundly affected who I am. I think many of us changed that day.