Beyond Disaster: Hillsboro couple remembers the Hesston Tornado

Next Monday, Linden and Dorie Thiessen of Hillsboro, will celebrate an anniversary of sorts.

Ten years ago that day, March 13, 1990, a powerful tornado demolished their home. It was a home Linden and Dorie had built themselves after a fire had destroyed their trailer home only two years earlier.

The storm had already left a trail of destruction from Pretty Prairie to Burrton, and then on to Hesston and Goessel.

?We?d been watching the storm for a long time,? Dorie recalls.

The tornado was an awesome sight, they say. It was almost a mile wide at times. ?We saw it headed for my brother Jim?s house,? Linden says. ?We called him, and then Dorie called her parents in Marion.?

Dorie laughs. ?I told my dad I?d call him back if we were still here after it was over.?

Then they realized the inevitable.

?It seemed like it had been heading our way all along,? Linden says, ?but the reality hadn?t really hit, I guess.?

At that point, Linden pulled on his best pair of boots, grabbed his tennis shoes, and went to call in the dog. Dorie quickly gathered her wedding rings and ran downstairs.

?I made sure I grabbed my rings, because we almost didn?t find them after the fire,? Dorie says.

They headed to a spare bedroom in the basement and put their heads between the springs and mattress of the bed.

?We were just holding on to each other,? Linden says.

?Then we started hearing stuff hit the house,? Dorie says, ?like a slapping sound.?

The next sound they heard was like the screech of a huge nail being pulled out of a piece of wood.

That sound was actually their entire house being pulled from its foundation.

?We were praying at the top of our lungs,? Dorie says. ?We were yelling.?

Linden adds, ?Our ears popped. Our feet felt light, like suction pulling us.?

Then it was quiet.

Linden was the first to venture out of the room.

?There was water running everywhere, so without even thinking I went to shut it off,? he says. ?Then I saw bare electric wires, so I yelled at Dorie to stay where she was.?

Linden managed to get outside, where he called back to Dorie, ?Don?t worry about the electricity. We don?t even have a pole anymore.?

?That was an awesome feeling to come out of that,? Dorie says. ?It was unbelievable.?

The damage was not limited to their house.

Their chicken shed was gone, only five of their 40 sheep were still alive, and their four horses had been moved 100 yards to the east.

?They were just standing there trembling,? Linden says. ?They were really scared. They didn?t want to move.?

Two of their grain bins were missing. The other two were left unusable. The machine shed was destroyed.

The Thiessens say the outpouring of care from the community was overwhelming. Immediately, people came to the yard to help. So many people helped, they are reluctant to name names for fear of forgetting someone.

?We spent a whole week just cleaning up,? Linden says.

With the help friends and neighbors, they hauled 20 truckloads of tin from the adjacent wheat field. Others brought in tools, pictures, and other personal belongings from the field.

?You know, in places like Andover, everybody?s stuff gets all mixed. They?re in a rush to clean it up,? Linden says. ?But we had the ability to go through each torn piece and find our things.?

For the next seven months, the Thiessens lived in town while they once again worked on building their own home. They lived in the basement for an additional two months while they finished the rest of the house.

?We had a lot of volunteer help,? Linden says. ?People came and helped with the electrical, plumbing, everything. Those people deserve lots of credit.?

The Thiessens say they don?t count the tornado as being a bad thing. ?It?s obvious that God used the tornado in our lives for good in a hundred ways,? Dorie says.

For one thing, they were able to build a house that could be licensed for foster care.

?Before the tornado, we had been wanting to get into foster care, but our house would not have been licensed,? Linden says. With the new house they were able to care for numerous children.

Opportunities to share their experiences also played a role in the adoption of their children.

Because their vineyards were ruined, they shifted their focus from a truck farming venture to opening the Olde Towne Restaurant in Hillsboro. They have been in the restaurant business since 1992.

The Thiessens say they are more thankful for the things they now have, but also realize they can?t hold on too tightly to material possessions.

?There?s a lot of freedom in that,? Dorie says. ?Material things don?t matter as much. It?s the relationships that count.?

They have also had the opportunity to see the goodness of people in the community.

?One man came up to us and gave us a hundred dollars cash. He had tears in his eyes,? Linden says. ?That?s pretty humbling.?

As Dorie came out of the basement that day, she thought of the song she had been practicing, ?Awesome God.? Linden started singing ?How Great Thou Art.?

Says Linden: ?It?s incredible to see God?s awesome power, and that [the tornado] was nothing.?

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