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Bethel grad, a 9/11 survivor, recalls how experience changed her

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – When it came to marking the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, Bethel College chapel planners turned to a personal connection.

Ruth Tumblin, a 2010 Bethel graduate in nursing, survived the Sept. 11 attacks. She was employed at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, a brokerage firm, in its sixth-floor offices at 5 World Trade Center in Manhattan, part of the World Trade Center complex.

Tumblin, who now works at Newton Medical Center in the Generations unit for patients with dementia, shared her story during the college’s weekly chapel service Wednesday, Sept 7.

The chapel also included “A litany of remembering, prayer and confession” and the men’s a cappella group Open Road singing “O God, our hearts were shattered.” Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote the hymn text, and the Worship Committee of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America prepared the litany, both for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which falls on a Sunday.

Tumblin was born in Puerto Rico. She graduated from Hesston High School in 1987. By 2001, she was living in New York City as a single mother with a young son, Roland.

She saw many heartbreaking and horrifying sights, after the explosions caused by commercial jetliners hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center shook her office building and sent everyone inside out onto the streets.

In the chapel and in interviews with two local TV stations afterward, Tumblin recalled two people whom she names as “angels” – people whose names she never knew and whom she never saw again – who helped her make her way from mid-town Manhattan more than 100 blocks uptown to New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Hospital, which was across the street from Roland’s school.

Once at the hospital, Tumblin was told that the Twin Towers had collapsed and that two more planes had crashed, one into the Pentagon and one in a field in western Pennsylvania. Starting at that point (and continuing to the present day) she suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress.

While in therapy to help deal with the PTSD, she began to think about studying nursing – partly as a result of her therapist’s suggestion and partly as she remembered what had happened to her.

She thought about “not being able to help people” who were injured and dying around her on 9/11, she says. And she recalled the way the nurses at Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital had cared for her.

Because of her connection to Hesston, Tumblin eventually made her way back to Kansas and then to Bethel College to enter the nursing program. While she was studying, she became a hospice volunteer, which she still does.

Tumblin says she is called, in her work with both sufferers from dementia and hospice patients, as well as their families, to help them “finalize – to reach a good end. I saw people [on 9/11] who didn’t have the chance to finish their journey [well]. I want to help them be comfortable, peaceful and pain-free.”

When one of the television reporters asked Tumblin if she agreed with the tone of Bethel College’s 9/11 chapel, which included prayers for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and called for loving those considered enemies, she said without hesitation that she did.

“9/11 was an act of hate,” she said. “We need to have love for everyone. We need to stop hating, especially within ourselves. I can relate to waking up every day in fear and that was just after the experience of one day. What about people [in places at war] who experience that day after day?

“Killing isn’t going to make my life better. It won’t bring anyone back.”

Tumblin began her presentation by reading Psalm 23, which she said “holds a special place for me. It’s a gift to be alive every day. Every day [since Sept. 11, 2001] is a chance and an opportunity to do something for someone.

“I ask everyone to appreciate life, the world, the small things, like a flower, your friends. It’s OK to be angry but don’t leave [someone] without telling them you love them – because you walk out the door every day and you just never know if you’ll be back.

“I don’t share my story to scare anyone. I share my story to let people know God is good. Even in such a tragic moment, God’s presence was there. I know this because he sent angels to be with me. I traveled through the valley of death, and God was there.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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