CEDARVILLE — It’s been just more than a month since the tornado took nearly everything Roger and Pam Dobbins had. Today the land where their farm once stood is much emptier now that most of the wreckage from the events of Wednesday, May 14 has been cleared away.
As Roger walks across the packed earth where his home used to be, it’s clear that things are different now.
His home is gone. His silo is gone. His barn is gone. His six grain bins are gone.
The last hickory tree, which his Hickory Dell Farm is named after, is gone. All these, destroyed or damaged heavily by the tornado that roared through the area outside of the Village of Cedarville on that Wednesday. The whole area is much more flat than it used to be now that several of the farm’s buildings have been torn down and hauled away in dumpsters.
While the house and its owners are gone now, soon this place will be home again. The Dobbins family will rebuild here. That was never a question. For now, though, Roger, his wife, Pam, and their daughter, Shari, whose home just down the road from the farm was also destroyed, are living in a friend’s home in Cedarville, just one example of the generosity their community has showered on them.
It doesn’t stop there either. Money, clothes and other possessions have been donated their way.
“The outpouring has been unbelievable,” Roger said.
As he sits on the porch of that in-town home reflecting on the tornado, it’s clear he remembers that day well. He’s a storyteller and can recall the details of that day just as if it were yesterday.
For him, May 14 was a normal day up until the early evening. At 5:30 p.m. he and his wife were sitting on their porch eating strawberry shortcake at their farm not far outside of the Village of Cedarville. Around one o’clock he had been in town at his church fixing a leaky sink valve. A normal day.
Eventually he made it home for the day. When the weather started to turn ominous, he sent his family and friends down into his home’s basement, but he stayed to watch. When he looked out across a nearby field, he saw it.
That tornado would later be rated by the National Weather Service as an EF-3. The NWS estimated that the maximum wind speed of the tornado was 145 mph and that the tornado’s path was nine miles long and 400 feet wide at its maximum width.
Roger watched it cut through a tree line across a nearby field and charge towards his farm, hoping it would turn away from his home of 71 years. It didn’t turn.
“It’ll probably take the roof off,” he recalls thinking at the time. Little did he know that it would take far more.
He quickly joined the group of family and friends that had already retreated to the basement. There were seven of them altogether: Roger, his wife, his daughter, his daughter’s friend and that friend’s three children. He grabbed them, put his arms around them all and held on.
“Next thing you knew we heard lumber breaking,” he said. He would later estimate it took ten seconds for the tornado to move through their immediate area.
Then it was quiet again, the tornado gone. Eventually emergency responders would free them from the basement by cutting a hole in the ceiling and lowering a ladder down for the seven (plus two cats and a dog) to climb up. Only then could they see the extent of the damage.
The house Roger and Pam had called home was little more than a pile of rubble. The roof of their silo sat in their kitchen. Grain bins were flattened. Their barn was now a pile of rubble as well. Little on their farm hadn’t been touched.
The next day their farm was swarming with volunteers, all moving with one purpose: to help the Dobbins familiy. Some picked up pieces of wood from the field near where the Dobbins home used to sit. Some cut twisted pieces of metal apart to put in a nearby dumpster. Some picked through the house, looking for specific items as Roger called them out.
“I was … like a pointer dog,” he said.
Roger estimated that 125 volunteers were at the farm working on the Saturday after the tornado. Three days after the twister roared through Hickory Dell Farm, the majority of the work there clearing away that tornado’s damage was done, the farm cleared. It sits today in about the same state.
“Everything’s been taken away,” Roger said. “We hauled the stuff out in dumpsters. That’s the saddest thing for me is memories going up the driveway in dumpsters. There’s a lot of memories out here.”
While today Roger is still waiting to hear from his insurance company on an official damage estimate, an eye test of the place shows that the damage was extensive. Amazingly enough, though, the tornado caused no injuries, neither at the farm or elsewhere.
After surveying his farm for awhile, he begins to head to his truck to leave. As he walks he notices something in the dirt. He stops and picks it up.
“I know what that is,” he said. It’s a piece of wood. To anyone else, it would be just a piece of debris set there by the winds of May 14. But for Roger, this is a memory.
“Went to Alaska on a mission trip, and we built a lodge up there,” he continued. “They cut us pieces to bring back. It was laying on my desk.”
Just a few dozen feet from where he picked up that piece of wood is where he estimates the new house will be.
“It’ll be one story,” he said. He then lists a feature of the new house that he and his wife have already agreed on. It’s the feature that protected him, his family and friends from the storm that took most of his possessions.
“Basement,” he said. It makes sense that this is a prominent feature in his mind.
Soon he’ll be making new memories with his family in his new home. Roger’s wife and daughter are working on floor plans for the place, and he estimates that they’ll begin construction within six weeks. Yes, soon Hickory Dell Farm will be home again.