Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“…take this house into your protection” July 5, 2012

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IT HAD BEEN AWHILE, I suppose, since they needed extra hymnbooks at a Sunday morning worship service.

But this past Sunday at my home congregation, St. John’s Lutheran in Vesta, the ushers and elders pulled out and dusted off surplus hymnals before distributing them to worshipers seated in the social hall overflow section.

The last time I saw those hymnbooks, they were stacked on counters in the church kitchen. And the fellowship hall, where I was sitting on a folding chair, was crammed with pews and pew cushions, banners, a dismantled statue of Jesus, and an assortment of items moved there from the sanctuary following a damaging summer storm.

Hymnals were stacked on the kitchen counter after the storm.

The pews and other items from the church were moved into the undamaged social hall.

St. John’s, hours after a July 1, 2011, storm. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

A year ago, a storm packing 90 – 100 mph winds ripped half the roof from St. John’s sanctuary, leaving the congregation without a permanent home for 10 months. Members worshiped at their sister congregation, Peace Lutheran in nearby Echo, before returning on May 6 to their church in Vesta.

St. John’s, one year after the storm with a new roof and an addition.

However, the dedication of the addition—which includes an office, storage space, handicapped accessible bathroom and enlarged narthex—and rededication of the repaired sanctuary were delayed two months to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the July 1 storm.

Standing inside St. John’s sanctuary in September 2011, I listened to the wind flap the tarp that covered the damaged roof.

A view of the same ceiling/roof area a year later.

On Sunday, I attended the service of prayer and thanksgiving, of dedicating the addition and rededicating the sanctuary “to the glory and the service of the Lord,” according to the Rev. Dale Schliewe.

Worshipers gathered July 1, 2012, in the repaired sanctuary with overflow into the social hall.

Singing words like “Christ is our cornerstone, on him alone we build…built on the rock secure…here is the day’s dedication…,” we celebrated.

It felt good to be there, in my home church, the building in which I was married, the place where I have mourned the deaths of loved ones, the sanctuary where I have celebrated confirmations and baptisms and weddings and many Christmases and Easters.

It was good to be home, to bow my head and fold my hands and pray: “…contine to take this house into your protection… Be with us always to bless, to keep and to save.”

Amen.

The southern half of the roof was ripped off by high winds and toppled onto the bell tower, which was removed. It was attached to the sides of the entry, as seen in this image from September 2011

Here you see the addition to the south side of the church. Worshipers now enter through south-facing doors.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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An update from storm-damaged Belview July 13, 2011

Entering Belview from Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. on July 2, the morning after the tornado. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

LESS THAN TWO WEEKS after an EF-1 tornado ravaged the small town of Belview in southwestern Minnesota, I emailed City Clerk/Treasurer Lori Ryer for an update.

I know she’s busy dealing with issues in the aftermath of the July 1 storm, so I asked only for a brief summary, with a specific request for information about Parkview Home. The nursing home, according to Ryer, received major roof damage that resulted in flooding of the building. Initially, 25 residents were evacuated and taken to care centers in nearby Wabasso, Olivia and Redwood Falls.

Since then, Parkview has closed for repairs, residents have been discharged and admitted to new nursing homes, and staff has been laid off.

When the nursing home will reopen remains uncertain as assessments are still being made. But Ryer anticipates, after talking to staff on Tuesday, that Parkview will be closed for at least several months.

This photo shows Parkview Home and mini golf in the park. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

Parkwood Apartments, which is attached to the nursing home, was not damaged, but was without power from Friday afternoon, July 1, until the following Monday evening. Some apartment residents left to stay with family members briefly, but everyone has now returned, Ryer says.

Bridgewood Assisted Living was not damaged, but was without power also.

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

Throughout the rest of this community of 375 residents, many home and business owners are still awaiting insurance adjusters. Many homes received minor damage, several moderate, and a few major, damage from results of the 95 – 105 mph tornadic winds, Ryer says.

Many garages and sheds were destroyed and quite a number of cars totaled due to trees falling on them, the city clerk continues.

Tom Johnson's SUV was totaled when a tree fell onto it during the Belview tornado. Photo courtesy of Tom and DeLores Johnson.

The Belview school building received major damage, resulting in relocation of the Belview Learning Center summer program. Ryer hopes that program will be up and running in the Belview school building before the new school year begins.

Despite the destruction in her community, Ryer manages to remain positive: “With all that being said, I still marvel at the fact that we had no injuries during the storm or in the days of clean-up afterwards.”

LIKE RYER, I, TOO, marvel that no one was injured or killed by this storm which swept across Minnesota into Wisconsin July 1. My hometown of Vesta, just down the road from Belview, was hit by a series of downbursts with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph.

I have many family members living in areas affected by the storms. Damage was minimal to their properties, but most lost trees. A cousin living near Wood Lake, however, saw substantial damage to the family’s farm. My home church, St. John’s Lutheran in Vesta, had half the roof ripped off.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half missing. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

In a few weeks I’m returning to my hometown for the annual Kletscher family reunion. I’m trying to prepare myself for what I’ll see—my little prairie town with fewer trees, the church where I was married now temporarily closed. I always look forward to worshiping there with my mom when I return home.

I expect it will be the trees, though, that I will miss the most. A friend recently told me that the small towns of southwestern Minnesota are like oasises in a land mostly devoid of trees, except for the trees in those towns and the groves that shelter farm sites. He is right.

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

But those of us who grew up on this land, and those who live there, appreciate the wide open spaces, the big sky, the fields of corn and beans and those small towns.

Prairie people are strong, caring, determined folks who come together in time of need. I’ve seen that over and over again in the stories I’ve heard and the comments I’ve received on my blog posts while covering the recent storm damage.

To the residents of Belview and Vesta, Tyler and Ruthton, and all the farm places in between, I know you’ll make it through these challenging days. Your roots reach deep into the prairie and no storm can rip away what you have—each other.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Couple grateful to survive Belview tornado July 8, 2011

TOM AND DeLORES JOHNSON never reached their storm shelter late Friday afternoon, July 1, when an EF-1 tornado blew into Belview. They didn’t have time.

But for the Johnsons, that turned out to be a good thing.

“The storm shelter was ripped up by the big tree that stood next to it…we would have been injured or possibly killed if we would have been in it,” DeLores surmises. Instead, they managed to seek protection in the basement of their 1898 home.

The storm cellar where the Johnsons would have sought protection had they had time to reach it.

“We are grateful to be alive,” DeLores says, a statement likely echoed by other rural and small-town residents in southwestern Minnesota where a wide-spread July 1 storm spawned four EF-1 tornadoes and a more powerful EF-2 twister. Belview was among the communities hardest hit when the tornado, with winds of 95 – 105 mph, ravaged this town of 375.

The Johnsons are in the process of cleaning up, dealing with insurance adjusters and gathering estimates so they can begin repairs on the 113-year-old house they’ve lived in since 1988. The list of damages to their home is extensive:

  • chimney blown down
  • rafters broken in the attic
  • shingles missing
  • paint blown off house
  • broken window
  • water damage to walls, ceilings, maple floors and carpet
  • roofs on two porches damaged and in need of replacement

The Johnsons' 1898 house was damaged inside and out by last Friday's tornado. DeLores offered to take photos of the interior for me, but I figured she had enough to do without adding this to her list.

A view of the house roof where the chimney was ripped off by the tornado.

DeLores shares some interesting details about the storm. “The wind blew water through the air conditioner in the bedroom upstairs and blew the water so it ran across the hall into another bedroom. It soaked up the carpet in the hallway and that in turn ran down into our living room.

“Upstairs in my office, water also blew through the air conditioner there. The shade has ground-up leaves stuck into it as does the shade in the bedroom.”

And that’s just the house.

The garage received structural damage when a tree toppled onto it and onto Tom’s  SUV. His vehicle was totaled.

A tree fell onto the garage and Tom's SUV, which was totaled.

The Johnsons lost nine trees, some of which fell onto a 100-year-old fence that DeLores says they’ve lovingly protected for years.

One of several trees that landed on the 100-year-old fence.

One of numerous downed trees.

Despite the severe damage to home and property, DeLores is grateful that they survived the storm.

She is also appreciative of all the help from family members and others. “Men from Belgrade, Long Prairie and Sauk Centre came and sawed up trees for us and helped to clean up. They were volunteers who we had never seen.”

NEARBY ON A WOOD LAKE area farm, my cousin, Marilyn Schmidt, expressed similar sentiments in an email I received at noon Thursday. “Lucky no loss of life. Fortunately, we were not home.”

Marilyn and her husband, Dan, had just arrived at a west-central Minnesota lake for the July Fourth weekend when an EF-1 tornado hit their Redwood County farm one week ago today.

Since then, with the help of family and residents from Cottonwood, the Schmidts are cleaning up. Click here to read a previous post about the storm damage at their place.

Their son, Matt, was at the farm with a crew on Thursday when Marilyn emailed.

She tells me that all of their neighbors to the south and east and some north and some west had major damage to their properties. The Schmidts’ insurance adjuster already had gotten 1,500 claims by Tuesday night.

Marilyn closed her brief email with this sentence: “Gotta go—men to feed!!!”

IN VESTA, WHERE A SERIES OF DOWNBURSTS with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph caused significant damage and downed trees, members of St. John’s Lutheran Church are planning to repair their church. The south half of the church roof was lifted off and slammed against the bell tower, according to my uncle, Milan Stage, a church member. The tower was cracked at the base and will need to be taken down, he says.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half ripped off by strong winds during the Friday afternoon storm. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

Everything has been removed from the sanctuary into the attached social hall. The congregation is awaiting reports from an insurance adjuster and two contractors who have been on-site.

Milan says the west end and sides of St. John’s appear to be alright, but that “It will be a slow process getting the church back in use.” The church council met Wednesday evening and decided, if funds are available, to remodel the church along with repairing it. In the meantime, congregational members will worship at their sister church, Peace, in nearby Echo.

Across town at Uncle Milan and Aunt Jeanette’s home, the high winds wrecked eave troughs and a deck railing. A branch went through the railing, taking half of the railing and the grill with it, Milan says. Tops were snapped from some ash trees in the Stages’ back yard. Branches from their big cottonwood tree were strewn across the lawn.

JUST A BLOCK TO THE SOUTH my 79-year-old mom, Arlene Kletscher, never made it to the basement during the storm. She was sitting in her living room sorting through papers and wanted to complete the task. In her closed-up, air conditioned house, she never heard the warning sirens. By the time she realized the severity of the situation, it was already too late to seek safety.

This marks the second time my mom has not gotten to safety during a severe storm. Thirty some years ago a tornado hit our home farm, where she was living at the time. Then a silo was downed, wagons strewn across the field, among other destruction.

I am thankful, again, that she is OK.

My mom’s Vesta home was apparently unscathed. However, she lost one tree and her yard was littered with branches and other debris.

READERS, THANK YOU for following my series of storm stories which began last Saturday. Yesterday Minnesota Prairie Roots’ views reached an all-time daily high of 1,443. That indicates to me a continued strong interest in the storms of southwestern Minnesota.

I know several of you have posted links to my blogs on Facebook. Thank you for doing that and also thanks to those who have shared their stories and photos. If you’re reading this and have a storm-related story to share, please submit a comment.

If you missed my earlier storm posts, check my archives. Many of those stories include links to more storm information and images.

PHOTOS COURTESY of DeLores and Tom Johnson

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling