Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Storm rips through my hometown of Vesta July 2, 2011

WHENEVER ONE of my siblings calls saying, “I just want you to know Mom is OK, but…,” I prepare myself mentally for her latest health crises.

But Friday evening when my sister Lanae reached me via cell phone while my husband and I were en route to a party near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, the news was totally unexpected.

My hometown of Vesta in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota had been struck by straight-line winds.

While my mom’s house—once the retirement home of my paternal grandparents—had gone apparently unscathed, other structures in town were damaged. But at least my mother and aunts and uncles and a niece were safe.

In my sister’s early report, which came second-hand via relatives in the area, she shared that half the roof was ripped off our home church, St. John’s Lutheran. Hours later, after arriving home from the party, I found photos in my email in-box of the storm’s destruction. I nearly broke down and cried when I saw my home church with the partially missing roof.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half ripped off during the Friday evening storm.

The images also showed damage to the grain elevator and bins in Vesta and trees down on the home place half a mile from town.

Damage to one of the grain bins at the local elevator.

The grain elevator complex, the visual defining landmark in the farming community of Vesta, was ravaged by winds. You'll see the damage near the top of the old grain elevator.

A close-up of the damage wrought upon the old elevator.

Another shot showing some of the debris and damage at the elevator complex.

The wind toppled trees on the farm where I grew up a half mile south of Vesta.

During that phone conversation with my sister, as my husband and I drove along the gravel road toward the gathering with friends, I wanted nothing more than to turn around, pack our suitcase and drive to Vesta 2 ½ hours away.

That’s exactly how I felt more than three decades ago when I lived in Gaylord and the farm where I grew up was hit by a tornado, taking down a silo and tossing grain wagons around the field.

But on this Friday evening, with storms rolling in from the west, I knew this was not practical. I would need to rely on my siblings to keep me informed. My middle brother, who lives in Lamberton some 25 miles away, was on his way to Vesta. I called my two daughters to tell them about the storm.

I wanted so much, though, to also speak with my mom. I needed the comfort of hearing her voice. I wanted to learn about her storm experience. But the phone lines were down in Vesta. Even though Mom owns a cell phone, I doubt she remembers how to use it. She’s never quite adjusted to technology.

And so now it’s Saturday morning and I am exhausted after a night of tossing and turning. Storms do that to me.

Thoughts of my home church—where I was married and attended the funerals of my father, Grandma Kletscher, Grandpa Bode and Uncle Mike—churned through my mind. I worried about where congregants will worship, whether the interior of the church was damaged, if the church, my home church, can be repaired.

I hope today to get some answers and, if I do, I’ll pass that information along to you.

I’ll also share images I shot last night of the storm clouds hanging dark and ominous over the farm site where we gathered with friends for an early Fourth of July celebration.

Nature provided the fireworks—lightning bolt after lightning bolt zig-zagging horizontally across the forbidding sky for hours. Except for some wind and rain, our area escaped the storm that ravaged Vesta and Marshall and other communities to the west.

IF YOU HAVE STORM stories to share from last evening, please submit a comment. KLGR Radio in Redwood Falls is this morning reporting winds of up to 100 mph in Redwood County and the sightings of possible funnel clouds. Click here to read that news report.

FOR THOSE OF YOU UNFAMILIAR with southwestern Minnesota, Vesta sits along State Highway 19 half way between Redwood Falls and Marshall.

Photos courtesy of Brian and Vicki.

©  Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Storm rips through my hometown of Vesta”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Pretty bad isn’t it…and it hit such a wide area…so thankful no one was hurt there.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, the storm did hit a wide area. And, yes, I am thankful no one was hurt. Buildings and trees can be replaced. Two of my brothers and their families worked six hours on Saturday in Vesta and on the family farm cleaning up trees, branches and debris.

  2. sonjamcgivern Says:

    thanks for the photos. I couldnt find a thing on the news about the Vesta area, My siblings all went down to help out but i was unable to go out because of other plans we had, so it was nice to get the update and photos while they were busy hauling trees and cleaning up.thanks
    Sonja Henriksen(McGivern)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You can thank my brother Brian for taking those photos. Like you, we also were unable to get out to Vesta and help.

      Like you, I also spent considerable time online trying to find info and photos from Vesta and Belview, to no avail. The Twin Cities media, for the most part, concentrated on storm damage in Wisconsin and in bigger communities like Marshall. I laughed when one station showed footage of Tyler and then moved on to Marshall, calling it a little bigger than Tyler. Yeah, like 10,000 – 12,000 people larger.

  3. D. McCoy Says:

    Funny isn’t it how the small towns get overlooked. We too have family in Vesta, and the family farm was hit pretty good too. 2 hen houses gone, the silo toppled and lots of little ‘sticks’ sticking out of the barn roof. Most of the grove is gone or trees stripped clean. We have barn boards stuck in fences just like in pictures elsewhere. Anything above a 2 story house has damage. We believe it was a tornado just above house level considering all the twisted trees and debris. My sister-in-law was in the car when they saw undulating clouds before they ran for a house and it’s basement. Again we are so thankful that no one seems to have been hurt.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This does sound like a tornado and I am so sorry to hear about the damage to your family’s farm. I wonder if the National Weather Service, or whomever, will be assessing damage in these small towns and rural areas and determining whether these were caused by straight-line winds or tornadoes.

      Readers, I would really like to get some photos online of the storm damage in the small towns and farms of southwestern Minnesota. If you have images you would like to share, please submit a comment and I will contact you via email.

      If you have a story to share, tell us in a comment. Let your voice be heard. Share how you’ve been impacted by the severe storms of last Friday. I grew up in southwestern Minnesota and I care about what happens in my home area.

  4. bevalker Says:

    I was going to the lake at Glenwood on Saturday when my sister Marilyn called with a change of plans. Their farm in rural Wood Lake was also hit. They had bins in the fields, lots of trees twisted and down, a barn lifted up and let down on top of their field disk that was in that structure, a wall on another shed caved in and then exterior damage on their house and another house on the yard. My brothers and mom were without power. My sister Joyce in Marshall had some branches down. Lots of destruction in Marshall and Redwood Falls and many small communities and farm places. Of course, the crops were destroyed. Quite a weather year!! Incidently, I also had hail damage from a storm in June.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Bev, thanks so much for commenting with the information about Dan and Marilyn’s farm. I had not heard this. Sounds like they had plenty of damage on their farm site.

      Could you contact Marilyn and see if she can email some photos? I would like to post them online here.

      Readers, I am still seeking stories and images to share of the damage in southwestern Minnesota. Submit a comment with your email address (which won’t be published) and I will email you.

      How bad was the hail damage to your Wisconsin home, Bev?

  5. bevalker Says:

    We got a hail storm on the morning of June 6. I was at work so my van got some dings on it. The worst was my house. The shingles that were replaced 6 years ago are totally destroyed plus eaves troughs and down spouts. I will need some trim painted. I am still waiting for estimates. I can let Marilyn know to send pictures but Heather and Michelle have lots of pictures.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That sounds like some pretty serious damage to your house. Certainly no fun to deal with insurance and trying to get repairs made.

      I’ve contacted several of your family members about getting photos of the storm damage. So hopefully one of them will forward images to me.

      I’ll be posting photos tomorrow of storm damage in Belview., courtesy of Uncle Merlin and Aunt Iylene.

  6. Bernie Says:

    Oh, no! The poor church. I can see where that would hurt your heart. I’m so glad that your Mom and her home were ok. I’m sure its painful to see pictures and hear stories about the storm though the town.
    Your brothers did a nice job with the pictures. Are they into photography like you?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I am thankful, too, that my mom’s house and the house on the home place were not damaged. As for the church, hopefully it can be repaired.

      Nope, my brother is not into photography. Just glad he snapped these images when he was in Vesta checking on our mom.

  7. RonD Says:

    Good brief summary of the storm damage here – http://www.myklgr.com/EF-1-Tornado-confirmed-in-area/10281720
    Yes, the Twin Cities Media really ignores the outstate news. It’s like SW Mn is a foreign, 3rd world land.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks, Ron, for the link to KLGR. Readers, you will want to link here to check out the results of the National Weather Service assessment. Numerous tornadoes in the area. Belview suffered the most damage apparently.

      Why does the Twin Cities media mostly ignore southwestern Minnesota? That constantly frustrates me. Even though I have not lived in sw MN for years, I still care deeply about what happens in my home area. I expect there are many other Minnesotans like me, who may now live in the Twin Cities area, who would also like better coverage of this region. It may be rural and less-populated, but it’s still an important part of our state.

  8. Nancy Keech Graumann Says:

    I appreciate the information and photos. I grew up in Echo and Redwood Falls. I use to stay with my Godparents (Esther and Otto Kreft) in Vesta.
    I’m sad to see all the damage but happy no one was hurt.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Nancy, apparently you are not the only one who appreciates the stories and photos of storm damage from southwestern Minnesota shared on Minnesota Prairie Roots. Yesterday my blog had 1,129 views, well past the average of @ 300 – 400. Based on my stats, I attribute that to the storm coverage.

      While viewing property damage is unsettling, I am honestly amazed that no one was killed, or apparently injured, as a result of these straight-line winds and tornadoes.

      Your name seems familiar to me. It’s possible we may have been classmates during junior high school in Redwood Falls. I graduated from Wabasso High School in 1974.

  9. Dalton LaVoy Says:


    I wrote a paper on my storm experience for school. I live a Mile west of Echo.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Dalton, thank you so much for taking the time to comment and to submit a link to the story you wrote about your experience during the July 1, 2011, storm in southwestern Minnesota. This storm system produced several tornadoes and damaging winds. My hometown of Vesta was among those hit as was nearby Belview and rural areas in between. Echo is just to the north of Vesta and Belview.

      Readers, I’d suggest you click on the link and read Dalton’s first-hand account. The last sentence is especially worth noting and tucking into your memory bank as we enter the season of severe storms in Minnesota.

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