On Sunday evening, April 11, the five of us were home. We knew that my father would be preaching in South Marion, a dozen miles to the east. We would have liked to be in attendance, but the weather forecast looked quite grim and we chose not to be out and about.
April 11 was the day of the infamous Palm Sunday tornado outbreak which created devastation and inflicted injury and death on many people all across the Midwest. As we listened to reports of the progress of the storms, we realized that we were very near the path of one of the most vicious of the storms (F4, as it turned out). Before the evening was over, we knew that Russiaville, Kokomo, and Greentown had been hit hard. We knew that the storm had passed through South Marion, and very near the place my parents were. We soon got word, though, from Dad that they were safe.
Monday morning I got up and headed to Greentown, knowing that there was no school, but not yet aware that there was no school in a literal sense. I had to park the car about a mile north of town, as that was as close as traffic was allowed. I walked into town, and the gendarmerie knew me and knew why I had business in the village, so I was allowed to proceed. Picking my way through the rubble, I found my way to the site of the school where I worked. The buildings were destroyed and the scene defied description
My friend, Bob Durr, who was the physics teacher, lived about a block east of the school. I headed in that direction. I met Bob, who was wandering around the streets in his bathrobe. We walked to the site of his home. The entire house was gone to the floor, with the exception of the framing and pipes around the bathroom in the center of the house. Guess where the Durrs rode out the storm without physical injury. In future, Bob never remembered talking to me on that Monday morning.
As the road to recovery was long and arduous for all concerned, I will truncate the story to relate our completion of the school year. The senior high students were dismissed for the year, and ceremonies for the graduating class eventually took place off-site. Portable classroom units were brought in and the junior high students finished their year in those, and did two more years in them while new construction proceeded to replace the losses. The elementary children completed their year in church Sunday school classrooms scattered around town.
The blessing was that this violence occurred on a Sunday night and not during a school day. I also think that this case is one of the strongest possible arguments against the campus approach to school building whereby small school districts locate all their students on one site. Yet literally hundreds of communities have done just that in the years since this instructive example.
Note: I prepared this article several days ago. Now, watching the weather across the Midwest this week, I see irony in the timing. But it is April 11, and I tend to respect history in posting. I pray for safety and well-being for those who may be subjected to violent weather this week.