ADRIAN, N.D. — The young newspaper reporter was on a mission.
Nebraska native Katie Ryan was working for The Jamestown Sun, covering a historic flood in the spring of 2009 in the James River Valley, in LaMoure County, N.D.
She’d learned of high water threatening homes in and around the tiny town of Adrian, about 30 miles southeast of Jamestown.
Checking in at the local grain elevator, she heard about a man named Levi Anderson who’d become a key figure in the local flood fight.
“I had circled his name in my little notebook to say I really want to talk to this individual,” she said.
She was able to talk with several people from the area to write her stories, but not Anderson. He was off sandbagging, somewhere.
Communication during the flood was difficult. Even now, cell service around Adrian is almost nonexistent. In 2009, if the grain elevator landline wasn’t available, flood fighters went to the top of a nearby hill to try to use their phones.
Though the two didn’t connect for the interview, they had a chance meeting later.
There, she stuck to her journalistic guns but he followed his heart, and a relationship was sparked.
Stories to be told
Levi Anderson grew up in the scenic James River Valley.
In 2009, working as an electrician, he lived in an apartment fashioned out of the corner of a friend’s dairy barn near Adrian.
Floodwater from the nearby James River found its way to his door, covering his living space with 13 inches of water the first time and more than twice that amount during a second crest.
He salvaged a few belongings, then started a long stretch of helping others.
“I’d wake up in the morning and pull on the chest waders,” Anderson said, while he and friends would try to determine who was in the most trouble from high water.
Meanwhile, Ryan was chasing stories around the county, feeling stress from the process and from seeing the flood devastation.
Close to cracking at one point, she told herself to get it together because the stories needed to be told.
Around Adrian, she was impressed by how resilient and self-sufficient people were.
“It was a really beautiful effort,” she said, “to see how these people were just taking care of it themselves. They weren’t waiting for the Guard. They weren’t waiting for volunteers from somewhere else.”
‘I can’t date a source’
Days later, as flood tensions began to ease, the two unknowingly ended up at the same bar in Jamestown.
After a short chat, he discovered she was the reporter whose stories he often read. She realized he was her elusive story subject.
She asked him for an interview. He, in return, asked her on a date.
“I can’t do a story on you if I go on a date with you. I can’t date a source," she recalls saying.
You won’t get your story then, because I’d rather take you to dinner, he responded.
Dinner turned into a relationship, marriage and children.
In the family home near Marion, 8-year-old Cole and 6-year-old Connor like to play video games and tear up the house playing football.
Levi Anderson, 38, now has a job in agricultural sales, while Katie Ryan-Anderson, 34, works in health care marketing. They have no flood worries in their current home.
In 2009, the James River at LaMoure County reached historic highs with two crests.
This year, according to a National Weather Service simulation based on current conditions, the river there has only a 5 to 10 percent chance of rivaling those levels.
She never did write that story about his generous efforts a decade ago, but neither of them would change a thing.
“Something very nice came out of all of that. It’s what we like to concentrate on,” Anderson said.