Reflections of 9-11: La Jolla area residents reveal how the acts of terrorism affected their lives

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

For many, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were life changing. Whether they were directly impacted or just felt the emotional tug from afar, people moved forward with memories indelibly etched in their souls. We asked local residents to share their stories.

Mary E. Woodall

The event was cataclysmic for La Jollan Mary E. Woodall, mother of Brent Woodall, a 1988 La Jolla High grad who died, along with 66 co-workers, in the terrorist attacks.

A minor-league- baseball-pitcher-turned-equities-trader, he was working at his job in the World Trade Center that day.

“It definitely changed our family dynamics,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Light. “Brent’s daughter, who is almost 9 ½, says that her daddy is in heaven; she will never know him, but fortunately has a wonderful ‘daddy’ as her mom remarried a few years ago. Brent’s nieces and nephew will only know their Uncle Brent by pictures and stories about him. His sister lost a brother and his brother lost his only brother. All these changes are huge in a family.”

“I say live each day as if it could be your last, because you really don’t know what may happen,” she continued. “I think we should say I love you more often to family and friends. I’ve learned not to take anything or anybody for granted.”

Believing the war on terror was necessary “if for no other reason than to show these terrorist countries that we are not going to let something like 9/11 take place without a proper response,” Woodall pointed out, “There are still many people in those countries who want to bring us down in one way or another.”

She noted “as a country we cannot get complacent just because we got Bin Laden” adding, “He is just one person in the big picture of terrorism.”

Greg Ricchiuti

Greg Ricchiuti lost his friend Brent Woodall on 9/11. He said the tragedy and its aftermath have rendered him “less optimistic.”

“I have a greater sense of worry than I ever did before,” he said, noting he has a very real sense of vulnerability now with the serious state of world affairs.

Nonetheless, he said he tries to focus “on positive things” and “never taking anything for granted.”

There is thing people should do in terms of memorializing 9/11.

Said Ricchiuti: “The best way to honor Brent’s memory for our children, and our children’s children, is that we should always reflect on what happened 10 years ago.”

Rabbi Yael Ridberg

Rabbi Yael Ridberg moved a year ago to La Jolla from New York City, where she was on 9/11. She said here experiences altered her perception of the world and her place in it forevermore.

The mother of four daughters who leads Congregation Dor Hadash said “As a rabbi I work with families who are bereaved and it’s very personal for them. But when they leave their home, they go out in the world and they’re reassured that life goes on.

“New York City after 9/11 was like one big house of mourning: There was no sense of separation between one’s personal loss, and one’s communal loss.”

For weeks afterwards, smoke could be smelled from towers miles away and security checkpoints disrupted the everyday flow of life in the city.

Longer term, said Ridberg, 9/11 “changed the way we understand our relationship with the world around us.”

“I would hope that our sense of vulnerability that we found that day might better help us identify with so many other places in the world that encounter that kind of vulnerability all the time,” she said. “Sept. 11 wasn’t the first awful nightmare that human beings have inflicted upon other human beings, and certainly hasn’t been the last one since.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the tragedy, Rabbi Ridberg said, “It’s the sense of how fleeting life is, and how important it is to treat people with love, respect and kindness to bring about justice and peace in the world so everyone can live without fear of their lives.”

Deborah Borza

Deborah Borza, now living on the East Coast, is the mother of Deora Bodley, a La Jolla Country Day (LJCD) grad who attended Santa Clara University and was one of the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania killing all 40 crew and passengers aboard that day.

“I’ve been involved the past eight years in effort to build the Flight 93 National Memorial,” she said, adding she will be attending the dedication of the new memorial this Sunday.

Designed by Paul Murdoch Architects, the first phase of the project includes an arrival court and a memorial plaza adjacent to the plane’s impact site — known as the Field of Honor, which will remain off limits. Later phases include large memorial walls, a visitor center and, eventually, a 93-foot tall “Tower of Voices” featuring 40 wind chimes.

“I’ve been spending my time there for a few years,” she said, adding she’s been touched by people asking to memorialize her daughter in a very personal way.

“I’ve had a couple of gals approach me wanting to name their daughters Deora,” she said of the name, which is Gaelic for cheers. ”There are four or five girls out there with the middle name of Deora now: That’s very precious.”

La Jolla Country Day School has honored Deora by renaming a school award “The Deora Bodley Alumni Award of Service.”

“I go back the end of May every year to give the award to a graduating senior boy and girl,” Borza said, adding “It’s taken a lot of courage and a lot of love” to carry on with her life.

This year, LJCD’s senior class is donating a flagpole in Bodley’s memory to be erected in the football stadium and dedicated Sept. 9 at a halftime ceremony of the Torreys’ football game.

Michael Provence

Before 9/11, UCSD historian Michael Provence was a doctoral student writing a dissertation (later a book) on French Colonial rule in 1920s Syria and worried about keeping his job teaching Middle Eastern history (one of only a handful) in the country. Immediately afterwards, he was much sought after by the media as an authoritative spokesman.

“The news was all about 9/11 and it was all news, no regular programming for 24/7 and I was interviewed by Texaswide cable asking me about the similarities to Pearl Harbor and things like that, and for the next three years I was in the press spotlight,” he said.

The tragedy, he noted, “increased the visibility of the Middle East in the American public conscious,” which had numerous consequences.

“More people wanted to learn about the Middle East and were taking classes and so forth,” he said.

“But also very detrimental were its effects on foreign policy and huge expenditures of money on foreign wars.”

Ten years later, Provence has given 120 public lectures on the Middle East, as well as logging a great deal of time being interviewed on television and radio.

He said the defense budget expenditures for a one-year period during the 2003-2008 Iraq War could have supported all 10 campuses in the UC system for 52 years.

“That would have been a better investment,” he concluded.

Tim Swanson

San Diego firefighter Tim Swanson was just a teen when 9/11 occurred, but a decade later his metalworking skills have allowed him to construct a permanent 9/11 memorial.

Fashioned from steel from the Twin Towers in New York, including two aluminum columns, the monument will be officially unveiled Sept. 9 at Swanson’s duty station, Fire Station 21 in Pacific Beach at 750 Grand Ave.

“Station 21 has the most foot traffic and is where it’s going to get the most exposure,” said Swanson about why the beach was selected over downtown as the memorial’s site.

Swanson left the steel I-beam remnant from the Twin Towers unaltered.

“It’s just mounted on a black concrete base,” he said. Beside it are two, 4-foot-tall aluminum towers resembling the World Trade Center etched with the names of all the public safety people lost in the attack as a tribute.

Noting the formal unveiling of his memorial will include “a few guys from New York,” Swanson said the memorial would be “a nice way to remember that loss.”

Michael and Jennifer Spengler

That September day was not only life-changing but career-changing for La Jollan Michael Spengler. A high-tech sales and marketing executive, he was on an airplane waiting to take off for New York when the towers were destroyed.

“The tragedy of 9/11 brought Michael and I to the realization that we wanted to live our lives to the fullest when so many had needlessly lost their lives,” his wife Jennifer, who runs a public relations business, wrote in a note to the Light. “A talented photographer, Michael had dreamt for years that he would one day turn his passion into a career, and I had dreamt of having Michael at home more to enjoy our children. This turn of events served as the catalyst we needed to follow our dream.”

Shortly thereafter, he gave notice at his job, they sold their luxury cars and house in the hills of La Jolla (although they have since moved back) and purchased 30-year-old Mike Barth Photography, she said. Since then, the business has moved to Bird Rock and he now runs a portrait photography portion, Studio M La Jolla, and a commercial photography portion, Michael Spengler Photography.

“While we were — thankfully — not directly affected by the events of 9/11 (other than the loss of a great guy, Brent Woodall — I grew up with here in town), our lives did drastically change ..”

Ways to remember those lost

n Brent Woodall Foundation for Exceptional Children was created by his wife to help children with autism and other developmental disabilitues and their families. Learn more at


n There is also a memorial scholarship in his name at La Jolla High School that is given to a scholar-athlete.

n Deora Bodley’s Project Team, based in Baltimore, “teaches the value of unity and teamwork to youth through creative and interactive group activities.”


n La Jolla Country Day School gives the Deora Bodley Alumni Award for Service each year.

n Learn about the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center site or donate to the memorial fund.

n Learn about the Flight 93 memorial in southwestern Pennsylvania

n Learn about the Pentagon Memorial at