Tornado Inventory
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Latest update: June 1, 2004
by Helen D. Gunderson
RHS Alumni Web Site Editor

The photo is of the Pioneer Seed office at the Mick and Sue Reigelsberger farm southwest of Rolfe. Their seed warehouse, which was on the left side of the office, exploded during the tornado due to an imbalance of air pressure.

I have assembled the following inventory about the families and places that were hit by the storm that moved through rural Rolfe on Friday evening, May 21. I have not gathered material about the disaster at Bradgate. You can also reference a map that's on the index page for the tornado coverage on this site.

The information is from talking directly to the people affected by the storm, from actually seeing the damage, and/or from third hand, but reliable sources. I know I have missed a lot or that there may be corrections to this list. Input is welcome — either corrections or additional material, whether text or photos. This has admittedly been assembled somewhat hurriedly, as I finally sat down tonight and looked at scribbled notes from Saturday through Friday. My goal is to get this material posted so that interested persons can get a sense of what happened, then later this week, I’ll post more of the photos of the storm damage and cleanup that I took at seven of the sites.

Shelly Stumpf, who was part of the incident management team at the Rolfe Community Fire Department, estimated on Saturday that the tornado traveled 22-28 miles, saying that there was a trail of metal strewn across the fields as far east as Renwick. She also said that the storm essentially followed the Three Rivers Bike Trail that goes along what used to be the Chicago Northwestern and the Union Pacific Railroad right of way east toward Humboldt, ending in Eagle Grove.

Kenny Bennett, branch manager of the Pro Cooperative at Rolfe, said today that most of the cleanup that can be done at the various places has been completed. He added that the biggest part of the cleanup effort that remained was the task of gathering all the debris that has been scattered across the fields. However, there have been 4.6 inches of rain in the Rolfe area since last Thursday night, and workers will have to wait until the fields are dry.

The Deane and Marion Gunderson farm located on the north side of Section 13, Roosevelt Township. The oldest building on the farm, a wooden shed, collapsed. It had been used for very little except storage of a lawnmower and miscellaneous items. None of the other farm buildings were damaged. A small patch of siding on the house was ripped off. Many trees were either uprooted or broken. At least one tree fell against the house, breaking about two windows. However, the windows did not shatter glass into the interior of the house. A ledge at the second story level of the house was dented, and in the living room, a person can see a crack in the plaster resulting from the fallen tree. Deane and his daughter, Clara Hoover, were returning from an appointment in Ames, and as they passed through the town of Clare, which is northwest of Ft. Dodge, they saw the storm clouds move across northern skyline. photos

The Mick and Sue Reigelsberger farm located on the south side of Section 12, Roosevelt Township. The most obvious damage was to farm buildings. Sue says their Pioneer Seed warehouse exploded due to the imbalance in air pressure. Also, the roof was blown off of a machine shed. We’ve heard that the windshield of their semi-truck was also blown out. At least one grain bin was blown some 50 yards off of its base. Pieces of the grain bin were scattered into the fields, with pieces landing at least a quarter mile away. Mick and Sue have two children, Joseph and Kaitlin, who will be in ninth grade next year at the Pocahontas Area Community High School. Mick, Sue, and Joseph sought safety in their basement during the storm. Kaitlin was not home at the time. On Memorial Day, the concrete flooring of their seed warehouse had been cleared of all debris and seed inventory. There was still a huge rubbish pile of trees and debris on the edge of the farmstead. We heard that the building will not be rebuilt until next fall because the Morton Company has a long waiting list.  photos

A corn crib owned by the Gary and Kathy Dahl family in the south side of Section 7, Garfield Township. The roof was blown off with debris scattered at least a half mile away.

The Joanne and Robert Brinkman farm located on Highway 15 in the northeast corner of Section 18, Garfield Township. We are aware that their hog barn was flattened. It housed about 10 pigs that the Brinkman boys (Jake, Tom, and Sam) were raising for their 4-H fair project. Mary Allen, a resident of Rolfe, was driving north on Highway 15 when she saw the storm developing. She thought she would be safe at the Brinkman farm, and drove onto place, hoping to seek refuge in the basement. But she could not get out of her car and watched metal and other debris blowing about her. photo

The Velma Ives farm on Highway 15 in the southeast corner of Section 7, Garfield Township. A limb from a large Cottonwood tree on the west side of the farmstead fell and barely missed damaging a hog house. Another tree on the east side of the house also fell. Velma had been in the house all day. She was aware that bad weather was approaching but did not know there was a tornado warning. She had rested, then was puttering in the kitchen, when her daughter, Kathy Ives Dahl, and three of Velma’s grand-children (Anna, Luke, and Jon) arrived. They said they had heard the weather siren going off in Rolfe. Kathy and her husband Gary live less than a quarter mile north of Velma's farm and have eight children that they have home-schooled. Many are now young adults. Most of the family had been at a tea party that afternoon at the home of Kathy and Gary's daughter Heidi Dahl Roland and her husband James Roland. The Roland place is about two miles east of Velma's farm. Kathy had walked to the Roland home to join the tea festivities. When Gary heard about the impending bad weather, he drove to the Roland home. He brought some of his daughters back to the Dahl farm where they headed for the basement. Kathy, Anna, Luke, and Jon left the party in another car and went directly to Velma's house and escorted her to the basement where they waited out the storm.

The Jason Ricklefs farm on Highway 15, across the road from Velma’s home. We have been told by a reliable source that the tornado twisted his trampoline.

The Gary and Kathy Dahl farm on Highway 15, a quarter mile north of Velma’s home. A few trees were damaged. No farm buildings were damaged. Sadly to say, one tree fell and killed a colt that had been born in less than 24 hours before the storm.

The Jack and Karen DeWolf farm on Highway 15, a quarter mile north of the Dahl home. Initially we heard from a reliable source that there was tree damage that damaged an electrical line.

The Rolfe golf course directly south of the main part of town. Damage to trees and ground equipment such as ball-washers. Two of the four golfcart sheds were destroyed.

The Sonya King and Aaron Orwig farm, east across the road from the golf course. Six windows were broken in the house, and a farm building was missing.

Clinton-Garfield Cemetery and St. Margaret’s Cemetery a mile east of the golf course. There was extensive tree damage. The old section of the Clinton-Garfield Cemetery has been known for its large cedar trees and a canopy of branches. Those trees were either uprooted or broken off by the tornado. Some monuments were blown over. There was a major cleanup effort at the cemeteries on Sunday and Monday with inmates from the correctional facility in Rockwell City joining local and other volunteers. Clinton-Garfield photos    index of Rolfe cemeteries

The Mac and Mary Nelson home, just north of the old section of the Clinton-Garfield Cemetery. They lost some trees with one that somewhat fell on the house, but there was minor damage to the house and other buildings.

The Heidi Dahl Roland and James Roland farm, a quarter mile east of the cemeteries on the north side of Section 9, Garfield Township. Many people will know the farmstead as the Nelson homeplace where Mac’s parents, LeRoy and Mary Nelson, lived for 70 years until just over a year ago. LeRoy died at the age of 94 in March 2003. Mary is a resident of the Rolfe Care Center. Heidi and James have been renting the Nelson home for a year from Mac, who owns the place. The young couple has four children: Sophia (5), Maria (4), Peter (2), and William (an infant). They had just hosted a tea party. The guests had left. The family was in the basement during the storm. Heidi is very descriptive in telling how they saw several different cloud formations moving through the sky, converging, then whipping around. The family survived with no injuries. The tornado shattered the windows with glass strewn about the rooms. A friend of the family, Jolene Duitscher, had left her car at the farm. It was totaled in the storm. Several farm buildings were flattened: the barn that Mac used for shelter for his cattle, a corn crib on a wood foundation, and LeRoy’s tack shed. LeRoy was an ardent horseman, and it was sad to see his saddle sitting in the wet dirt in the midst of the tack shed rubble. The chicken coop was also damaged. During the cleanup effort, a whole flock of chickens scurried around the yard. At least one chicken died in the storm. photos

The Jennifer Burns Trenary and Randy Trenary farm, a mile east of the Roland home in the northeast corner of Section 10, Garfield Township. Many people know this as the south Kennedy farm. Richard Roller is the landlord. Mike and Joni Behrendsen farm the land and had some of their machinery stored in the buildings. Jennifer said in an email, "The house suffered only very minor damages and is completely liveable. My husband, Randy, and I were home with our kids at the time of the tornado. I was in the basement with Shelby (8) and Spencer (4) and Randy stood in our back doorway and watched the silo, old hog building, grain bins and machine shed go with the storm." photos

The Justin and Samantha Zeman farm, just north of the Trenary farm in the southeast corner of Section 3, Garfield Township. Many people know this as the north Kennedy farm. Apparently there was major damage to the Zeman home.

The Adeline Behrendsen home on the south side of Section 3, Garfield Township. The roof was blown off her home and the rain-soaked plaster board and insulation collapsed into a pile in the house. The home was totaled. Adeline sought protection by waiting in the shower in the basement. A Story County Deputy Sheriff, presumably Scott Devereaux, checked on her. He had to climb through a broken window since the door was locked. After he left, Adeline climbed out the broken window, thinking that was the only way to exit. After the storm was over, the 93-year-old woman walked a quarter mile or so to the home of her son Mike Behrendsen and his wife Joni Zeman Behrendsen. We visited with Adeline on Memorial Day at the VFW maid-rite luncheon at the Lutheran Church. She seemed in good spirits and has moved into an apartment on Main Street in Rolfe.

The Joni Zeman Behrendsen and Mike Behrendsen home, just east of Adeline’s home on the south side of Section 3, Garfield Township. Mike is one of Adeline’s sons. Rolfe old-timers may recall the farm as the place where George and Nellie Heald lived in the 1950s before moving to Ames. The farm had been in the Heald family for four generations. Mike says that it is probably the second oldest farm in the county. He bought the place 33 years ago and was a bachelor there for seven years. Then 26 years ago, he married Joni, and the couple has lived on the farm since that time. Joni had been mowing the lawn when she and Mike noticed the storm approaching. Mike grabbed her hand and pulled her into the machine shed just seconds before the tornado hit. The storm flattened the shed. Joni suffered a broken nose and cuts on her head and arms. Mike had a concussion and recalls little of what actually happened during the storm. The couple has four children. The oldest ones, Shanna and Shane, are students at Iowa State. Jessica was in the house when the storm hit. Nate, who graduated from the Pocahontas Area Community High School on May 16, was visiting a friend in Havelock. The window of the family room of their home was blown in/out, but otherwise the house and garage were in good shape. However, all the farm buildings were destroyed. The loading chute for cattle is standing. Two-thirds of one silo and a third of another silo are in place but are weak. Some of the brick from the silos fell on cattle, and 13 died. Mike had to shoot two of his cattle. Some of the cattle survived. The rest of the farm buildings were leveled, including a barn that was more than 100 years old. The Behrendsen farm was known for its wonderful, old Oak trees. Many of them are now gone. Others are still standing but are broken and scraggly after the storm. When we asked Mike if this was the worst thing that had happened to him in his lifetime, he said he was not devastated. His biggest regret was the loss of the Oak trees. photos

The Dorothy and Virgil Ricklefs farm, about a half mile east of Joni and Mike’s farm in the northeast corner of Section 11, Garfield Township. We have been told that they lost their garage.

The Al and Deb Ripperberger farm, about a mile northeast of the Ricklefs in the northeast corner of Section 11, Garfield Township. We have been told there was major damage to their farm.

The Kelvin Stearns farm, on Highway P19 about a mile east of the Rippergers in the northeast part of Section 12, Garfield Township. His place is just west of the Des Moines River. We had heard that "everything is gone" at the farm. On Memorial Day, we quickly visited the place. It is indeed a mess, and it's hard to tell where the house had stood. Our guess is that it was totaled and had been cleared during the week since the tornado. There were large rubbish piles of metal from grain bins and other damaged items. I apologize for such a brief report on a place that seemed so totally demolished.

The town of Bradgate. Finally, on Memorial Day, on my way back to Gilbert from Rolfe, I drove through Bradgate. I had avoided going to the town last weekend. That's because I had not wanted to be another gawker, creating congestion in an area where people were devastated and putting their entire effort into the first days of recovery. I went to the fire station and discovered that the two people I knew in Bradgate, Alan Branhoij (who has done demolition work in the Rolfe area) and Gaylen Larsen (who works at the Cement Plant office of the Pro Cooperative) were gathered around a table talking with two other people, Gaylen's wife (who happened to be the city clerk at Bradgate) and the security officer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I pulled up a chair and visited them for awhile. Hopefully, we will get some reports and photos from the clerk to post.

The tornado took the roof off the corn crib on an abandoned farmstead that is owned by Gary and Kathy Dahl. They used the building to store bales. Debris was scattered at least a half mile away.

Rolfe High School Alumni Web Site: Graphic by Wendy Bennett

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