XENIA — Former Fairborn Daily Herald sports editor Woodrow Wilson, who lived in Xenia when the tornado destroyed the city on April 4, 1974, says he will never forget witnessing the devastation of the city and spending hours wondering what happened to his family.
His wife Trish and two small children, ages 2 and 3, were at their Kansas Drive home in the newer Arrowhead subdivision that day. She called Wilson at the office to tell him she had heard on the radio that a tornado was coming shortly before it struck at 4:30 p.m.
“I was at work in Fairborn when I got the call I’d better get home because Xenia was hit,” Wilson said. “I didn’t know if my family was alive or dead. It missed our house by about a block and a half. They didn’t have much time.”
Wilson had to take the back roads to get to Xenia and when he arrived he could only get within a couple miles of his home. He parked his car and walked for an hour to get to the house.
“That was a scary experience,” he said. “As I walked through town I saw the houses stacked on top of each other, buildings crumbled, cars flipped and thrown like Matchbox cars, trees gone. The damage done was unimaginable. I was shell-shocked. People were just walking around in a daze.”
As he walked, Wilson found a woman from his church and they walked together.
“She started crying and I told her ‘There’s no need to cry now. It’s done and there’s nothing we can do. It happened. Now we just need to pray,’” said Wilson, who arrived at his home to find that it was the only house on the block that still had power and telephone service.
“God blessed us. No one else had it,” he said. “Police officers would stop by just to use our phones.”
Wilson still didn’t know what happened to his wife and children. He spent the night with a friend from church who lived in the middle of town. The back of the man’s home was blown off.
“We guarded his house all night with a gun because people had already started to loot and steal,” said Wilson.
Due to the break down of communication, Wilson did not know his family was alive until 8:30 a.m. the next day when he called the Herald office. He was told they had stayed with a coworker, Herald photographer Bob Grundisch. As Wilson was headed home to Xenia, his wife had loaded the kids in the car and headed for Fairborn immediately after the tornado passed.
“Trish took the kids to the middle of the house to the bathroom and laid in the bathtub. She said they saw [the tornado] coming and it looked like it was coming straight at them. She couldn’t believe the sound. She said the roar was like 10 trains running over her head,” Wilson said. “After it was gone, the police came around and said another tornado was coming and to get out.”
The Herald reporter said he remembers church groups coming from Fairborn to help in the days following, along with people from throughout Ohio and the United States.
“It seemed like the cleanup took forever. It’s mind-boggling the damage done in just a few minutes,” said Wilson. “Life is precious. That day made me appreciate my family and friends even more. Cherish them because in a moment they can be gone.”
The Wilsons moved to Fairborn in 1977.