Josef Rantner realized he was an American as he watched television coverage of the World Trade Center towers collapsing.
Rantner, a Lawrence plumber and native of Austria, decided Sept. 11, 2001, that he wanted to become a United States citizen.
"That day was like somebody came into my house and hurt my family members," he recalled. "That day made me feel like an American."
Today, Rantner will be among the 150 new citizens from 59 countries sworn in during a naturalization ceremony at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
The event, which begins at 2 p.m., is the first of its kind to be conducted at KU. It will not be open to the public because of a lack of space.
"It was like it was meant to be," Rantner said. "I can't tell you how special it is -- on Sept. 11, to get to be a U.S. citizen."
Rantner, 38, first came to the United States in 1989 to install plumbing at a New York City apartment complex for the international company he was working for in Austria.
He met his future wife, Cara, at a party there. They hit it off -- though he spoke very little English -- and soon decided to marry.
When Rantner's project in New York was done, the couple was faced with a decision -- to stay in the United States or move to Austria. They decided to stay in the United States because they wanted their future children to have a grandparent, and Cara's mother -- who lived in Leavenworth -- was the only one of their parents remaining.
They married in February 1990 and moved to Lawrence. Josef Rantner got a job as a plumber with Chaney Inc. in Lawrence.
The Rantners had two daughters -- Serra, now 12, and Isabella, now 8. They bought a house. He became president of the Douglas County Plumbing Board.
And the whole time, Rantner was fine with the idea of maintaining his Austrian citizenship.
"It wasn't important to me that he make the choice," Cara Rantner said. "Now that he's made the decision, it makes me very happy. It makes me very proud of him."
Rantner convinced his daughter Isabella to teach him the Pledge of Allegiance as he tucked her into bed at night. Knowing the pledge is one of the requirements for becoming a citizen.
"I kept saying it and having him repeat it," Isabella said. "He just about always got it wrong."
Cara Rantner remembers the first time her husband finally got it all right. Isabella walked up to her and proclaimed, "My little student's growing up."
Roy Chaney, Rantner's boss, will be among those at the Dole Institute today to watch Rantner recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the other new citizens.
"He's put 110 percent effort into making it," Chaney said. "To do everything he has accomplished, he came a long, long ways. He gives 110 percent effort on everything he does."
Rantner said he doubted life would change much after becoming a citizen, except he'll gain the right to vote.
"The first thing I'm going to do is register to vote," he said. "I can't wait to get that dumb sticker that says, 'I voted.'"
And while he didn't come to the United States seeking a new life, that's exactly what he got when he made that trip to New York City back in 1989.
"I've certainly lived the American dream as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I have a great family, great extended family, healthy kids. Hard work pays off."