Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vesta & Belview celebrating one year after storms June 29, 2012

TWO REDWOOD COUNTY COMMUNITIES will come together to celebrate this Sunday, one year to the date after severe storms ripped through this region of southwestern Minnesota.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta, hours after a July 1, 2011, storm ripped half the roof from the sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

In my hometown of Vesta, area residents will remember the storm anniversary and rededicate St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at a 10:30 a.m. worship service followed by a catered chicken dinner.

Damage to one of the grain bins at the local elevator. Photo by Brian Kletscher.

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. Photo by Brian Kletscher

During the late afternoon of July 1, 2011, a series of downbursts with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph swept through Vesta, ripping half the roof from St. John’s sanctuary, felling trees, denting grain bins, damaging the landmark grain elevator and more.

Under construction in March, a pastor’s office, bathroom and storage room were added to the south side of the early 1970s era church. Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling.

It took nearly a year for St. John’s to reopen after the congregation decided to expand the church as part of the roof reconstruction process.

Entering Belview from Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. on July 2, the morning after the tornado. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher, who were not yet living in Belview when the storm hit.

In Belview, about 10 miles to the north and east, residents will also mark the one-year anniversary of an EF-1 tornado which rode in on the same storm system. The tornado, with winds of 95 – 105 mph, wiped out many of this prairie town’s trees (which fell onto buildings and vehicles), damaged the nursing home to the point that it closed for awhile, wrecked roofs and more.

A month after the tornado, Belview’s Parkview Home (nursing home) remained closed as repairs were needed to the damaged roof, covered here with blue tarps. Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling.

The communities of Belview and Vesta lost many trees in the July 1 storms. This photo is along a Belview street north of the park. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

Jerry Hagen’s house, across the street from Merlin and Iylene’s home in a July 2 photo. Photo courtesy of Merlin & Iylene Kletscher.

Damage along South Main Street in Belview. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

A year later, Belview residents are celebrating with a catered community picnic supper and entertainment at the local park (or in the air conditioned historic Odeon Hall if the weather is too hot) from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday.

“We know we can pull together when the going gets tough as was proven after the storm,” says City Clerk Lori Ryer. “Now we would like to pull together in a spirit of community and fellowship and say thank you to everyone in town and to those that helped.”

My Uncle Merlin and Aunt Iylene Kletscher will be among Belview residents attending that picnic, celebrating and listening to the music of Ron and Kathy and Friends. The Kletschers had just closed on the purchase of a foreclosed fixer-upper home along Belview’s Main Street when the tornado ravaged Iylene’s hometown. They lost most of their trees—one of the reasons the couple bought the property—and sustained damage to their house, which they had just begun renovating.

Says Merlin:

So far we have planted four flowering crabs, a new disease resistant elm tree, 13 lilac bushes and the city has the Main Street boulevard planted with really nice-sized maples. We have two churches with new roofs, the bank is putting a new roof on right now and there are also more homes in the process of new shingles, etc., now.

One year later, Belview is looking pretty darn good!

A portion of Main Street in Belview a month after the tornado. Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

FYI: To read more about the July 1, 2011, storms and to view more storm damage photos, check the Minnesota Prairie Roots archives from July 2011. In addition to the damage in Vesta and Belview, many rural residences also were hit. The farm of my cousins, Danny and Marilyn Schmidt, was struck by a second EF-1 tornado which nipped the northwestern corner of Redwood County. Near the South Dakota/Minnesota border, the community of Tyler experienced an EF-2 tornado which followed a 3-mile path through Lincoln County. The tornadoes and wind storms were part of a massive storm system  on July 1, 2011, which began along the western edge of Minnesota and extended as far east as northwestern Wisconsin.

I was on my way with my husband to a party near Nerstrand not far from our Faribault home in southeastern Minnesota when these threatening clouds moved in during the early evening hours of July 1, 2011. It was while driving to our friends’ rural home that my sister Lanae phoned to tell me about the storm in our hometown and to warn me of the approaching bad weather. Fortunately the ominous clouds delivered only rain and nothing severe. But I was worried, very worried.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling