Iowa's Only 9-11 Widow Tells Her Story

By Beth Malicki, Reporter

Jean Cleere of Newton tells her story Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011 at her home in Newton. Cleere lost her husband of 23 years, Jim, in the Marriott hotel at the World Trade Center when the towers came down. He is the only Iowa resident to die in the September 11th attacks. He was there on business as the vice president of a telecommunications company out of Des Moines. (Matt Love/ SourceMedia Group News)

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By Aaron Hepker

NEWTON, Iowa - The morning of September 11, 2001, Jean Cleere went to work at the Maytag plant in Newton like she did every Tuesday. Her husband, Jim, was in New York on business. When the first plane hit he was in his hotel room in lower Manhattan, in the shadow of the Twin Towers, the place now known as "Ground Zero".

WATCH: The only 9/11 widow in Iowa tells her September 11, 2001 story
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"We finished up our conversation and goodbye and I love you, and that's the last time I talked to him."

Unlike many of the families who lost someone on September 11th, Jean knows what happened to her husband in those final minutes. And she knows he wasn't alone. "They got out of that ordeal and they spotted light to the north and decided to go that direction and outside of that hotel, almost to the north end, they got outside and there were firefighters tending to Jim," Jean said.

Jim had been hurt; he couldn't walk on his own. He'd made it down 15 flights of stairs from his hotel room to the lobby. Firefighters were trying to get him out of the Marriott when the tower fell, crushing them.

WATCH: Newton resident’s wife recalls what happened the moment the towers fell
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"...Your father made a decision to try and save my husband..."

Through witness accounts in books and magazines Jean was able to find the names of the two firefighters who died alongside Jim. And while at memorials at Ground Zero, she met their families. "Are you any relation to Fire Chief Raymond Downing? That was my father, and this is my brother. I cleared my throat and I said your father made a decision to try and save my husband. I'm from Iowa, he was out here on business."

WATCH: Miracle meeting at Ground Zero between Newton woman and her husband’s heroes
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A Love Story That Started in October 1976 and Ended September 11, 2001

Jean Cleere is the only September 11th widow in Iowa. In the list of nearly 3,000 names of those killed in the terrorist attacks, only one is of an Iowa resident: Jim Cleere of Newton. He was the vice-president of telecommunications for Seabury & Smith out of Des Moines. But to Jean, he was the love of her life. "October 1976, I remember he was such a gentlemen, blonde hair and red beard, but I just fell in love with him. He had a great sense of humor," Jean recalled. They were married 23 years.

WATCH: Jean and Jim Cleere - Their Story
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When Jean retrieved Jim's car at the airport parking lot, it was as if he'd left a message behind in the ring he was planning to have re-sized. "This is Jim, this is the man I married, I truly believe he's in heaven."

"I have a very strong faith. When we were watching those towers fall we prayed, Lord, we don't like what's happening and you know in our hearts we want Jim to come home, but if that's not in your plan we will be okay."

WATCH: Husband who died in terrorist attack left unexpected treasure to wife
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WATCH: Why Jean Cleere struggled with accepting tax dollars throughout the Victims' Compensation Fund, how the Red Cross supported her in such a time of need and how her husband provided for her even after his death.
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Jean Cleere attended almost every anniversary of September 11 at Ground Zero with hundreds of other grieving families who knew her type of pain. But this year Jean is staying in Iowa, and building her own tribute here to those who risk their lives every day.

WATCH: Widow decides not to be in New York for this anniversary
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Jean Cleere is raising funds to build a firefighter tribute in her hometown of Newton. Two firefighters stayed by her husband's side on September 11, 2011, and died trying to save him when one of the towers fell. She wants to honor the heroes on that day, as well as those who continue to selflessly give the ultimate sacrifice to comfort those in need.

WATCH: Widow turning grief into local tribute
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