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Wykoff residents recall killer tornado of fifty years ago

Fri, May 9th, 2003
Posted in Features

The 1953 tornado damaged several homes and farms in and around Wykoff. Clockwise from the bottom picture, the Kenneth and Betty Neimeyer home; the Charles and Carol Schumacher home and barn; and the Norman and Dorothy Meyer house. Photos courtesy of Carol Schumacher

Don Jeche, his dad, Otto, and his six year old nephew Dennis Boetcher were milking cows early on the afternoon of May 12, 1953. It was Mothers Day and the family was looking forward to sitting down for a special supper as soon as the chores were done.

Don Jeche, who was 29 at the time, had just taken the milk machine off the last cow when the tornado hit. The next thing Jeche knew he was crawling out from underneath the collapsed barn.

While Jeche was relatively unharmed with a bump on his head, 70 year old Otto Jeche was killed instantly. Rescuers arriving from town had to saw through beams to extricate Dennis Boetcher from the debris. The boy, who was seriously injured, would spend the next couple of months in the hospital. To this day, Boetcher walks with a limp that was caused by the tornado fifty years ago.

While the men were out in the barn, Jeches wife Mary, who was nine months pregnant at the time, huddled in the basement with the rest of the family. A window exploded and water came pouring in, Mary recalled. After things quieted down, she looked out of the house and saw her husband jack rabbit hopping over all the power lines. Ten days later Mary would give birth to a healthy son.

According to the May 15, 1953 edition of the Wykoff Enterprise, storm damage was extensive.

At the Charles Schumacher farm, every building was blown down save the house, which lost its roof and was otherwise extensively damaged...

...Several other farms suffered damage to buildings and loss of livestock, among them William Bicknese, Kenneth Niemeyer, Fred Faupel and Hugh Walker places...

...In Wykoff, Mrs. Lester Gatzke, whose 10 room home, only recently remodeled by her husband, was whisked off its foundation and set down partially in a street and 40 feet from its foundation, said that she and her son Stanley, 3, and her mother Mrs. Ben Dornink of Greenleafton were sitting on a couch in the living room. Mrs. Gatzke said, It felt as if we suddenly began to float high through the air. We were lifted gently and came down softly. None of us was thrown from the couch. A terrible suction took everything out of the room except the couch we were sitting on and a chest of drawers.

It was the scariest day of my life, Esther Evers recalled this past week, remembering the 1953 tornado. It was like a train went through the house.

Esthers husband had also gone out early to milk cows, and Esther had just picked up her three month old son when the storm hit.

I was immobilized. I just stood there while the storm raged, Evers recalled. Her husband soon came in the house and told her that the neighbors (Walker farm) looked as if nothing was left standing as debris littered the Evers fields.

To this day, Esther still gets anxious when she sees clouds billowing up in the southwest.Connie Bicknese, who is one of the owners of the Bank Gift Haus in Wykoff, was a young married woman in 1953. Bicknese learned about the storm when she was driving into Wykoff after attending a band concert in Lanesboro that afternoon.

When we turned on the Mile Road, we saw the devastation, Bicknese said. We couldnt believe it.

The storm was widespread, doing damage in Chester, IA, Etna, Fountain, Wykoff, Chatfield and St. Charles. In St. Charles a four-month old girl was killed when her parents car was blown off the road into a creek more than 100 feet away from the highway.

According to the Wykoff Enterprise, the Mothers Day tornado of 1953 was the first time the city had been hit by a tornado. Another tornado would hit the town in July 1977, causing $1 million in damages. There were no injuries.

Fifty years later, Don Jeche still remembers how the towns people pulled together to help out.

Relatives and all kinds of people came to help out, Jeche, now a retired farmer, recalled. Thats what I love about living in a small town like Wykoff. How people pull together when people need help.

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