• Last modified 3454 days ago (March 11, 2010)


Tornado victims remember generosity

Staff writer

Where were you on March 13, 1990? Many Marion County residents can vividly remember where they were when a ferocious thunderstorm struck the county, spawning tornadoes that killed one person and destroyed several homes.

Byron McCarty was Hillsboro’s police chief at the time. He paid close attention to the weather on the radio that afternoon.

The tornado appeared to be on a path toward Hillsboro, so the police sounded tornado sirens, trying to give everybody time to take shelter.

“I thought we gave people plenty of warning,” he said.

The tornado closely followed Indigo Road, McCarty said. If it had continued on its course, the tornado would have struck the hospital.

Indigo Road was under construction and took a detour south of Hillsboro. Strangely enough, the tornado veered east when it reached the detour, missing Hillsboro, McCarty said.

“It has to be a miracle that it turned at that point,” he said.

Not everyone was spared from Mother Nature’s wrath, though. Ruth Voth of rural Goessel was the only person to die in Marion County during the storm. She was returning home that afternoon from visiting her husband, Harold, at Halstead Hospital, where he was being treated for cancer. She was found near her home.

The tornado leveled the house, two sheds, and a garage.

“We were here the next morning,” grandson Matthew Voth said. “I’ll never forget that view — looking and not seeing what’s supposed to be there. It’s burned into my mind.”

Voth was a middle school student in Derby at the time, but he remembers receiving sympathy cards from all across the state, including from people he didn’t know.

“This community was a blessing to my grandparents,” Voth said.

The community was an important part of Matthew Voth’s decision to move to Goessel to farm. He built a new house on the site where his grandparents’ home stood, reusing the foundation of the garage.

“To this day after every hard rain, I find things in the front yard,” he said. “I go out with a 5-gallon bucket and pick up.”

James and Joyce Thiessen found themselves in the tornado’s path at their 1755 Jade Road home outside Hillsboro.

“We were aware that there were storms in the area,” Joyce recalled, but they had a large windbreak around the farm that obstructed their view.

James heard something while they were having dinner, Joyce said, and they took shelter in their cellar.

“It was over so fast we hardly knew something had happened,” she said.

Nobody was injured, but they lost one cow that night.

The house was old, and the storm broke all of the windows, but the family was able to save most of the things in the house. Some of the furniture was marred by debris, Joyce said.

The tornado destroyed the Thiessens’ machine shed and damaged other outbuildings and equipment. But their dairy barn was spared, and they were able to continue business.

“The Lord provided,” Joyce said.

Tabor College allowed them to stay in a house the college owned while they rebuilt, according to the March 21, 1990, issue of the Hillsboro Star-Journal.

Rebuilding was a long process, but their insurance was comprehensive, and they had many helpers.

“We had no idea who was out there, there were so many people helping,” Joyce said.

Dorene Thiessen was at her home, 1154 180th Road, Hillsboro, the afternoon of the tornado.

“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” she said.

Her husband, Linden, arrived home shortly before the storm struck. When the tornado was close, they took shelter under a mattress in their basement.

In the moments the tornado was destroying their home, the couple held each other and prayed, but they couldn’t hear one another.

“The sound was deafening,” Dorene said, describing it as like a giant nail being pulled out of a board.

Neither of them were injured, but their house was completely gone.

Family, friends, and the community in general rallied around the victims of the tornado. Dorene said she still has a mental image of people combing through the debris.

“It just about brings tears to my eyes again,” she said.

Linden and Dorene rebuilt on the same site, using the very same basement that sheltered them from the tornado. Friends helped with every step of the rebuilding process.

“We have a debt we know we can never repay,” Dorene said.

Looking back at the kindness she received, she is hopeful that people can make it through trying times as a group.

“We need each other,” she said.

Last modified March 11, 2010