By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — BRISTOL — Susan Briner looked at photos of the destruction from the tornadoes that hit Elkhart County 49 years ago on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965.
The photos and newspaper accounts from The Goshen News, The Elkhart Truth and South Bend Tribune were on display at the Elkhart County Historical Museum in Bristol.
Briner attended a Palm Sunday Remembrance event Sunday afternoon.
“We lived at Midway Trailer Court in Dunlap and we lost our home,” Briner said. “If we were at home, we’d be dead. I have no doubt about that.”
The tornadoes destroyed the trailer court.
“Things can be replaced and people can’t. I’m thankful we were OK,” Briner said. “My son Michael (Worgan) was 6 months old at the time. We found two pairs of his pants and they were filled with tiny little holes like sand had got them. That was an interesting time.”
Museum Curator of Education Patrick McGuire had a moment of silence for the residents of Elkhart County who died in the tornadoes on Palm Sunday.
He shared with the audience that Elkhart County was among the hardest hit during the storms and the tornadoes were rated at a F4 scale, which meant the winds were clocked at 207 to 260 miles per hour.
McGuire said that 11 days after the tornadoes happened, a plastic bottle with a Goshen address on the label was found 60 miles away in Sturgis, Mich.
“It was the first warm day of spring, a rather warm day and it wasn’t until 6 p.m. when the first warnings came out and the tornadoes hit near Wakarusa at 6:15 p.m. and ended near Middlebury,” McGuire said. “It destroyed Midway Restaurant that was at the intersection of U.S. 20 and Ind. 15. The only things that remained standing were the stools that people sat on (inside the restaurant). It shows the craziness of the tornadoes.”
There were 1,400 people displaced in Elkhart County from the tornadoes and more than 100 vehicles were severely damaged or destroyed with some of them found in fields sticking straight up, he added.
Darlene and William Strawn of Goshen attended the remembrance event to learn about the history surrounding the storms.
“We’ve lived in Goshen for 11 years and heard about the tornadoes,” Darlene said. “We decided to come and see what had happened.”
Anna Umbower of Goshen was only 2 years old in 1965 and has no recollection of what happened.
“I remember my parents and grandparents talking about the storm,” Umbower said, while looking at the newspapers and photos on display in a glass case.
She pointed to the front page with the news of President Lyndon Johnson visiting Elkhart County and shook her head.
“And to think the president came here,” Umbower said.
The Elkhart County Historical Museum is seeking written stories and memories from Elkhart County residents in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the Palm Sunday tornadoes in 2015. For more information, call the museum at 574-848-4322.