So a few weeks ago, tornados tore through the Midwest again and struck close to home. Kokomo is a mere 30 minute drive from my Logan and this wasn’t the first time it was struck by a tornado. Likely that it will not be the last time either, as tornados are just a normal part of those Midwestern springs. As I scanned the news of the storms and their damage, I am looking carefully at the storm paths and determining where my own extended family is in all this mess and destruction. As best I can tell, my aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings are all out of harms way . . . this time. That wasn’t the case in 1965, however.
On Palm Sunday of 1965, my Uncle Dick and Aunt Jeanette were racing to their home from church in Russiaville, Indiana with their newly adopted baby boy. They got home just as the storm was bearing down on their house. Grandma told me that just as they were running to the basement for shelter, the tornado ripped the roof of of the house and tore baby Ricky from Aunt Jeanette’s arms. Ricky was slammed against the wall and bounced back into Jeanette’s arms. Jeanette ran down the steps, followed closely by my Uncle Dick. They found the safety of their basement as the house collapsed above them. The storm was classified later as an F4 tornado but speculation today states that it at have been an F5. F4 — F5 — call it what you want. It was a monster wave of tornados ripping through Indiana that day.
In Logansport, the storms were also threatening. The entire northern part of Indiana was under siege from these storms. As reports came in, with a confirmed touch down in Russiaville, grandma and grandpa feared the worst. Grandpa left their home as soon as he could to head into the heart of the Russiaville path of destruction. As grandma told it to me, he was delayed by debris on roadways and an unrecognizable landscape. When he finally found what had once been Dick’s house, he dug through rubble with his bare hands, searching desperately for his son, his daughter-in-law and his new grandson. Grandma said that when grandpa arrived back in Logansport with our Russiaville refugees in tow, he was a bloody mess. Covered in abrasions from his hasty rescue of his family however, his heart was at peace. His family was safe now. Rest and time would heal this destruction and families would come together to rebuild homes and rebuild lives.
Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Dick probably have their own harrowing account of that day, that storm and that recovery. But this is what I remember from grandma.
Our family was lucky that day. Those Palm Sunday storms were among the most deadly tornadoes to ever hit Indiana. 25 people died in Russiaville alone and 90% of the structures in Russiaville were destroyed. Total death toll in Indiana was 138 people. Many families did not find peace that night.
It seems to me that in my own life, I putter along most days in calm waters, in a loving home, surrounded by my loving family, and an occasional tempest will blow through- scattering debris, knocking me off of my foundation, tearing down the structures I have built around me. I may find myself confused by the way life seems to wear me down, wear me out – a constant but gradual erosion of the walls of control and order with which I surround myself. I think about my grandparents every single day. I miss them tremendously. When my life seems to overwhelm me, I think of them, the storms they weathered, the love they relied on to rebuild their lives daily. I am grateful.
- Residents outside of Kokomo recover from tornado (kokomotribune.com)
- God Had a Hand Over Everybody – Kokomo Resident (indianapublicmedia.org)