Remembering the Hesston Tornado: ?I guess you do a lot of praying?

Ten years ago on March 13, 1990, the lives of many Marion County residents were changed forever, while others were altered only slightly.

On that day a storm that came to be known as ?The Hesston Tornado? brought an F5 intensity twister through the center of Marion County. While some chose to rebuild, others had no choice but to leave their homes.

This was the case with Carl Klassen, who lived on a farm near Goessel with his wife, Betty, on that fateful day.

?It was just extremely difficult,? Klassen recalled. ?I just couldn?t bear the loss because this is where I grew up on that farm and I wanted to retire there.?

Following the tornado, Klassen had to move into low-income housing at the north end of Moundridge.

Klassen said he always had other jobs while living on the farm, but his heart was always on the farm. He was determined to stay there after the tornado, even though the house, though damaged, was the only building still on its foundation when the storm had passed.

In all, the cost to repair the farm would have been around $130,000.

?I can just see it in my mind?s eye right now and yet it?s been over 10 years ago,? Klassen said.

He said he was not at home at the time of the tornado, but was trying to get home. The tornado followed him as he drove to his farm. The more he noticed it behind him, the more frightened he became.

Klassen also remembers seeing the swath of tremendous destruction about one-fourth of a mile wide.

Klassen, whose wife has since died from an illness, is still struggling with the loss.

?Every day when I read the Good Word, a verse comes to me: ?The Lord will never leave me or forsake me,? Klassen said.

The tornado also changed the lives of Fred and JoAnn Schmidt, who owned the Iris Lane Dairy near goessel along with his brother, Jim Schmidt.

Although not much damage was done to the house and only one outbuilding damaged, the brothers decided not to rebuild the dairy.

Fred Schmidt said he always has been open to change.

?This was just another change,? he said. ?Making the change wasn?t that big of an impact.?

Since the tornado, Schmidt has pursued employment in another area of interest, electrical work. After getting his license as an electrician, Schmidt eventually quit farming.

Schmidt said just recently he was looking through some tornado-related pictures and newspaper articles with friends.

?I think the thing that I remember the most is that I did not grasp the magnitude of the destruction for a long time,? he said. ?I was in denial about how bad things really were?probably until now when I look at pictures. I just can?t believe how much devastation there was.?

He said a person only needs to experience such destruction once in a lifetime.

?I do watch the sky more carefully now than I ever did, especially in the spring, and I pay attention to the weather forecasts,? Schmidt said.

For others the tornado did not change their lives as much, but they still have not forgotten that day.

Alice and LeRoy Funk, Goessel, lost 80 trees and a barn in the tornado. And the shingles were torn off of their house.

?We were thankful we could still see our house,? Alice said.

She said they received a lot of help cleaning up and food and money from neighbors and friends.

Since the tornado, they have put up a new garage and replaced the trees.

?I always feel like every time I go outside I would see the barn wasn?t there,? Funk said. ?It took a whole year, then all of a sudden when I went outside, I realized I hadn?t thought about it.?

For a few years, they were apprehensive during spring, but Funk said the next year after the 1990 storm was the worst. She said she had things ready in the basement all year in case of another tornado, and she left her picture albums and mementos in the basement all summer.

?I guess you do a lot of praying,? Funk said.

Meribeth and Randy Schmidt of Goessel say they put their trust in God.

The Schmidts? home was not damaged, but the small farm they owned a fourth of a mile away was almost destroyed. Only a few buildings were left standing on the farm, which was used for storage and was where they pastured their dairy heifers.

They saw the tornado coming that day. Meribeth Schmidt said it was huge, like on the postcards.

?We were too frightened to stay at home and yet we knew you weren?t really supposed to drive away form it, but we did,? she said.

Schmidt remembers a dreadful panic while driving away and not knowing what they should come home to find, but she said they did a lot of praying.

They were thankful and relieved it didn?t get their farm where they lived.

?There was major frustration that set in later when we realized all of the debris that was in our fields,? Schmidt said. ?This required lots and lots of cleanup.?

Church and community volunteers walked their fields twice in an effort to clear them of debris, but they still had some flat tires that summer.

?I think everybody is apprehensive about storms, but until you?ve been through it yourself so close, I think it does really impact you more,? Schmidt said.

The farm of Dennis and Glendene Flaming of Goessel also was damage by the tornado, but they did not consider leaving their farm.

?This was my great-grandfather?s place and we had good insurance,? Dennis said.

Their damage totaled more than $40,000, and it was nine months before they could move back into their house.

The worked on the house every spare minute they had to get it repaired. Flaming said they are still working on it.

?There?s trees out there that are still badly damaged,? he said.

Flaming remembers seeing the horses running into the barn as he and his wife were heading into the basement. He also remembers coming back up the steps and realizing three-fourths of the house was still standing, but it was badly damaged.

?You just take each day as it comes,? Flaming said.

He said that day they had to make a lot of decisions real quick about what they wanted to do.

On the northern end of Marion County, Robert and Rose Mary Neuwirth remember how helpless they felt during the tornado. They were laying out in a ditch when it hit.

They lost several buildings on their farm, but the house did not receive any structural damage.

?This is our home,? Rose Mary said. ?Neither one of us ever though about going anywhere else.?

She said she remembers how wonderful the neighbors were.

?There are still times, not so much lately, when my husband would go to get a tool or something and it wouldn?t be there, and oh, it hadn?t been back yet,? she said. ?You forget.?

What was worse, the Neuwirths had just rebuilt their home the year before. They had taken off the top floor and had put on new siding.

?It makes you appreciate the Good Lord,? she said. ?He took away, but he also preserves.?

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