Women's Cross Country Crash, 1985

The 1985 women’s cross country season was filled with accomplishments. As a team filled with young runners, the expectations to finish near the top of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) standings were initially slim. Yet, the women proved they could outrun the competition on more than one occasion. They finished second at the Midwest Collegiate Championship at Kenosha, Wisconsin on September 21, 1985. They won the Iowa State Invitation in Ames on September 28, finished second at the Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Oklahoma on October 5, and won the Cyclone Memorial Invitational on October 12 in Ames. In November 1985, the team traveled to the National Collegiate Athletic Association in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and astonished those in attendance with a second-place finish. The performance “surprised most of the experts and even the coaches,” and the coaches and team members were ecstatic at the unexpected finish.

That night, Monday, November 25, 1985, spirits were high among the group of twenty-nine runners, coaches, administrators, and trainers as they randomly boarded three university airplanes headed back to Iowa. Because of bad weather conditions, the planes were routed from Ames to Des Moines. At 5:41 pm the airplane piloted by Burton H. Watkins, Director of ISU Flight Service, crashed at 525 Country Club Blvd. in Des Moines, shearing the top of the trees in the West Des Moines neighborhood and charring two oak trees. All seven on board were killed: Ron Renko, Head Coach Women’s Cross Country and Track, Pat Moynihan, Assistant Coach, Women’s Cross Country and Track, Sheryl Maahs, ISU Runner, Sue Baxter, ISU Runner, Julie Rose, ISU Runner, Stephanie Streit, ISU Student Athletic Trainer, and Watkins. It was three days before Thanksgiving and the day after Baxter’s 22nd birthday.

Ron Renko

Head Coach Ron Renko

Flags all over campus were flown at half-mast the day after the crash, including a British flag in honor of Rose and Baxter who were both from England. On December 4, 1985, the university held a memorial service at Hilton Coliseum. Thousands of students, faculty, family members, and staff attended. President Robert W. Parks and Max Urick, Director of Athletics, both spoke about the tragedy, and eulogies were given for each of the victims.

Bonnie Sans Speech

Bonnie Sans, ISU Cross Country Runner, Gives a Tearful Eulogy, December 4, 1985

On September 26, 1992 a commemorative ceremony was held at the Recreation/Athletic Facility. A memorial plaque presented during the ceremony read, “The seven…were returning from a joyous second-place NCAA team performance that surprised most of the experts and even the coaches. The entire Iowa State University community always will remember these seven special people, whose compassion and effort underscored their unique achievements. Their talent, ambition and spirit speak with vitality of the gift of life we all enjoy.”

Plane Crash

Women at the Memorial Plaque, 1995