Memories still remain from F4 tornado in Wykoff area 60 years ago on Mother's Day
Tuesday, May 07, 2013 3:40 AM
Sunday, May 10, 1953, was supposed to be a day of celebrating mothers, but instead it will be remembered for the devastating F4 tornado that hit much of Fillmore County.
The storm of 60 years ago began its journey near Chester and continued through to Chatfield and, according to some reports, traveled as far as Whitewater. In its wake it left a trail of destroyed buildings, downed trees and power lines.
Wykoff was hit particularly hard that day. Numerous farms, homes, and businesses were damaged and one man was killed.
Otto Jeche was with his son, Donald, and his grandson, Dennis Boettcher, finishing up chores in the barn on their family farm, which is located southwest of Wykoff. As Donald, who now lives in Wykoff, remembers, stormy weather had been predicted that day, but they were focused on getting the chores done so they could celebrate Mother's Day with their family.
With very little warning the tornado hit the family's farm, causing the barn to collapse on the trio. The barn's large timbers killed Otto and pinned Dennis, but Donald was able to escape through a foot-and-a-half gap in the debris.
Other members of their family, including Donald's wife, Mary, who was eight months pregnant, tried to reach the basement, but as the tornado hit, a wall of water rushed into the basement. Fortunately, they made it through the ordeal unscathed.
Donald said he was just glad that his two daughters, Barbara and Diana, were in Spring Valley visiting their maternal grandparents. Mary went on to have their son, Lynn, 10 days after the tornado.
He remembers when the girls came to the farm later they were upset when they saw the storm had flipped the chicken coop upside down and all the baby chicks were walking on the roof instead of the floor.
But most of all Donald remembers how quickly the neighbors and community members came to help the family. "I don't know how they found out so fast, but our neighbors were there right away moving the cattle," he said. Many of the cows had been seriously wounded by the flying debris leaving holes in the backs of some.
Church members also helped plow the fields and clean up some of the debris left behind. Even 60 years later Donald is still extremely appreciative to all that came from throughout the community to lend a hand.
Nearby the farm of Norman Meyer, Donald's brother-in-law, suffered extensive damage with all of the buildings on the property being leveled.
Many other farms suffered damages and loss of cattle due to the tornado including the farms of Charles Schumacher, William Bicknese, Kenneth Niemeyer, Fred Faupel and Hugh Walker.
In Wykoff, several homes were destroyed including the home of Lester Gatzke. The home, which had just been remodeled was blown off of its foundation and set down in the street 40 feet from the foundation.
Mrs. Gatzke was sitting on the couch with her son and mother when the twister hit the home. She told the Wykoff Enterprise at the time "it felt as if we suddenly began to float high through the air. We were lifted gently and came down softly. None of us were thrown from the couch."
The only thing left in the living room was the couch they were sitting on and a chest of drawers.
Fred Horstman's home was also lifted off its foundation and set down on top of an old Ford Model A.
The storm's path destroyed the Hall Schoolhouse near Etna, as well as the Bear Creek Schoolhouse.
The Chatfield area lost the clubhouse at the golf course when it was completely leveled. Numerous trees were uprooted at the Chatfield Golf Course and many farms in that area were also damaged.
While this 60th anniversary is not one that will be celebrated, it will be one that will be remembered by all those who witnessed the tornado and its aftermath.