It seems to me that certain dates commemorating events, such wedding anniversaries, children’s birthdays, and the like have permanent places in the individual memory boxes of our brains. Dates and the corresponding events like these vary with each person, but around here one date, April 3, 1974, the day of “THE” tornado, is etched in the memory of a lot of folks.
You know, in recalling such an event and its aftermath we often remember little “snapshots” - individual episodes or incidents that are somehow associated with the experience. One of the peculiar memories I have is being “lost” in the downtown area after the rubble had been cleared away. I sometimes became confused about where I was because all the buildings I had known were gone and I had difficulty orienting myself.
The way I resolved the problem was to look for the courthouse which was still standing and get my bearings from there. Interestingly enough, when I have mentioned this to other folks, a number had the same problem - and also used the courthouse as a reference point.
Our home got only minor damage - some gutters were torn loose and our metal storage shed wound up in a neighbor’s yard - but my brother’s farm took a devastating hit. The barn, spring house, and chicken coup were all flattened and the roof torn off the farmhouse itself. Fortunately my sister-in-law was able to get herself and the children into the cellar where they survived unscathed. The damage, however wasn’t limited to the buildings as scores of prime hardwood trees were toppled.
My brother engaged a logging company to salvage as much as possible and, since I was recently retired from the military and had the time, I served as his representative in recording the tree type and number of board feet of each log as it was removed. Quite an interesting and extraordinary experience.
Our church, located in downtown Xenia, was also right in the path of this monster whirlwind. The church building, an old-fashioned white structure complete with a steeple housing a church bell which could be rung by a rope, was demolished. The only thing left of its beautiful stained glass windows were some shards of colored glass that were later put into a display. The parsonage and education building were also blown away so we were left with a vacant lot.
Well, we rebuilt on the same location incorporating the sanctuary and the education facilities into the same building, but with an added structure - a carillon tower. The plate at its base shows it is dedicated to the memory of SSGT Terry L. Regula, age 22, of Jackson Center, Ohio, who was killed on April 5, 1974.
He was on duty guarding downtown Xenia against looters when a damaged building collapsed on him. Every time we pass that carillon tower we can’t help but think of the sacrifice this young man made helping Xenia in its time of desperate need — and you can be sure bells will ring out from that tower on April 3, 2014.
Of all the memories I have of that time I think the most powerful resulted from the unbelievable amount of sheer, complete destruction. I recall hearing words like “Our church is destroyed” from members of our congregation and other congregations which suffered similar loss.
After a relatively short time, however, this changed to “We may have lost our buildings but our church is intact.” Yep, this unparalleled disaster made people realize their churches were the members and not the structures. And so there was a renewal - a kind of rebirth which resulted not only in physical rebuilding but a deeper insight into faith. Relatives and friends from outside the immediate area saw headlines leading, “Xenia destroyed by monster tornado.” and wondered what the future held for our town.
Once the shock wore off a little the message from our community came out loud and clear. It went something like this: “ Sure, we suffered both immense property damage and the deaths of a number of our citizens, but the city of Xenia was not destroyed because Xenia’s people are what make Xenia and we are still here.” And so the city and county governments, school officials, businesses, private individuals, school kids — everybody — figuratively and literally rolled up their sleeves and got going.
Cooperation and a “can do” attitude performed wonders as the city was rebuilt - and it worked.
Well, there you have it - a few tidbits from the many about “THE” tornado and what happened afterward - to be treasured as part of a once in a lifetime experience. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.