Tornado stories: Wadena survivors share their talesPhil Gleason came to Wadena to drive his 1975 Chevrolet Caprice in the annual summer parade. He had his machine shined up and looking hot. The class of 1961 graduate was also planning to attend the All-School Reunion, so around 5 p.m. June 17 he was registering in the high school commons when a twister blew into town from the southwest.
By: Brian Hansel, Wadena Pioneer Journal
Phil Gleason came to Wadena to drive his 1975 Chevrolet Caprice in the annual summer parade. He had his machine shined up and looking hot.
The class of 1961 graduate was also planning to attend the All-School Reunion, so around 5 p.m. June 17 he was registering in the high school commons when a twister blew into town from the southwest.
When the sirens went off Gleason made a run for it, just like many other people, and took refuge in the boys’ locker room with around 20 other people. After the twister passed, Gleason went out to view the destruction around the school. What he saw shocked him. His shock turned to profound sadness when he saw his Caprice, pushed out of the lot and onto the front lawn of the high school. His beautiful classic Chevy looked like it had been put through a cement mixer. The fate of his beautiful car had Gleason spinning.
“Right now I just know that I’m kind of numb, but I’m happy to be alive,” Gleason said.
District 2155 bookeeper Joyce Boyne was working in her office at the east end of the high school when the sirens went off. She joined one of the custodians in making for a better protected room across the hall.
“Before we got there it was just boom, boom, boom!” Boyne said.
While Gleason’s car still stood on four good tires, Boyne’s vehicle was totaled.
Boyne had not only lost her wheels, she was also short an office.
Kevin Glebe and his wife, Rita, were in a new downtown Wadena business place, Shades of Green, when the tornado struck. They were not in the tornado’s direct path, but they had a front-row seat.
“We could not see the tornado, we could see the debris,” Kevin said.
John Edinger was a fire chief in Wadena for 32 years so he is no stranger to emergency situations. When the siren went off Edinger and his wife went into the basement. When they came out of the basement shortly after the tornado passed, their beautiful neighborhood was in a shambles.
“There’s that Swedish saw I have been looking for,” Edinger said as he strolled around his backyard. He did not have a garage, some of his prize trees were gone and his property was scattered all over the neighborhood, but Edinger had found a bright side — he had found his saw.
Carol and Ken Albertson stood in the kitchen-living room portion of their home on Seventh Street Southwest on Monday and knew the place they bought just six months ago was gone. They knew it because they could look right outside. For the present, they are staying with relatives in Staples. The EF4 tornado came right up their street late June 17 and the Albertsons grabbed flashlights and candles and went into the basement. Carol remembers a horrible popping in her ears during the storm. Debris came rushing into the basement and then was suddenly sucked out again. They emerged to find their house was fractured and broken in many places. The neighbor’s garage was on the Albertsons’ back deck. Carol has cleaned the kitchen because, like many others, she wants life to go back to normal. But when she looks up through the shattered rafters of her house, she can see the sky.
Don “Red Dog” Strayer of the Wadena County Fair Board was waiting for help to arrive Monday morning at the devastated fairgrounds on U.S. Highway 10. Many of the buildings on the grounds are destroyed, including the grandstand and the baseball diamond’s lights.
“You could get a pretty good deal on cement blocks,” Strayer quipped as he stood in the midst of the devastation.
Strayer commented that 19 of the school district’s 20 buses, which are stored during the summer on the grounds, were destroyed or damaged by the tornado. Strayer added that it was ironic that one of the fairground’s oldest buildings, which the board has been considering for demolition, weathered the storm just fine.
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