Citizens share tornado memories with Harmony care center residents
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:27 PM
On a recent Monday afternoon, a large group gathered to hear a story of local history told during Gundersen Harmony Care Center’s “My Story to Tell” program.
Harmony residents Marilyn Trouten, at left, and Charles Fravel share their memories of a destructive tornado that took their homes and destroyed many of their belongs in 1965 at the Harmony Care Center earlier this summer.
Marilyn Trouten, Harmony’s former tourism director and local historical society member, said, “You never think it’s going to happen to you,” then proceeded to share her story about living through a tornado on May 5, 1965.
Marilyn said it was not a good day from the beginning, as it was very humid. Marilyn, her husband, Bob, and their three small children, all under the age of 5, lived on a farm four miles south of Harmony. Bob returned from work that evening in a severe thunderstorm, which soon turned for the worse.
“The first thing I noticed was that the air was completely still, not a whisper of wind, but the clouds kept twirling,” Marilyn recalled.
She watched as the vicious twirling clouds turned into a funnel cloud, with a twisting funnel-like finger descending down from the dark clouds. Rushing to the basement, they all huddled together.
“Suddenly, doors were slamming, windows were breaking, and we were enveloped in loud, terrifying noise. Then there was a bright light, and we looked up, and our house was gone,” Marilyn said.
With the family car destroyed, they had to flag down a passing car so they could get into town and let their families know what had happened. Grateful they were safe and unharmed, Marilyn said all their belongings were either totally gone or so broken and dirty they could never be used again.
Marilyn added that she could still recall the feeling of the dirt in her hair and on her clothing and everywhere.
“The support from friends and family was unbelievable,” she added. “They planted crops, salvaged what they could, and cleaned up what they couldn’t. Many provided food and provisions so we could start over.”
Marilyn concluded she didn’t know what was more overwhelming, the storm or the community’s response and support they received.
Resident Charles Fravel and Marilyn Trouten are connected by fate, sharing the experience of being hit by the same tornado on May 5, 1965.
The tornado continuing to move in a circular direction, would leave a path of destruction as it touched down in Canton at former Superintendent of Canton School’s, Mr. Ellis’s home, before changing directions.
“We had lived in an old stone home, between Lenora and Newberg and lost it in a fire. In ‘64 we built a new home, and had been living in it for six months,” Charles began. “I was milking the cows and was standing in the southwest doorway of the barn, when my wife ran half-way down to the barn shouting that a tornado was heading our way. I watched as she safely got into the house, and then suddenly I was pushed to the ground.”
Charles added. “It was over so fast and as I picked myself up, I realized I needed medical help. I walked up to the house to tell my wife that I was going to the hospital, and then drove to the neighbors. My car seat was filled with pieces of broken glass, as the windows had been blown out.”
Charles, who was hospitalized for three days, would consider himself a lucky man, sustaining a head wound, requiring 20 stitches, lacerations on both arms, and a broken leg.
Thankful for the safety of his family, Charles lost everything — the house, his shed, his barn and his cattle.
“The tornado took the house off to the bottom windows, the foundation,” Charles said.
He also shared that this experience is something one never forgets and he is glad there are more safety precautions in place, such as spotters, weather watches and warnings, news coverage, and sirens.
Charles concluded that eventually he would begin a new life in the Greenleafton area.
Today, this tornado would be classified somewhere between an F-4 and F-5 tornado, moving at high-speed winds between 261-318 miles per hour.