It was Palm Sunday, around 9:30 at night, when the Allen County Sheriff’s Office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol were notified of storm damage north of Cairo.
What they found on that April 11th evening in 1965 was more than just “storm damage.” It was devastation and death from a tornado system that pounded its way across the Midwest, jamming telephone lines and in many cases preventing any kind of warning for those in its path.
The death toll from that night would eventually lead the National Weather Service to develop the tornado watch and warning system we currently have. The upcoming anniversary of the Palm Sunday tornado also serves as a reminder that April, May and June are the peak months for tornadoes in the Midwest. Not only do these months have the potential for the greatest number of tornadoes, but also the most intense tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service.
Ten people in Allen County and seven others from the area were killed by the Palm Sunday tornado as twisters ripped a path of destruction between Gomer and Cairo and then eastward between Beaverdam and Bluffton. Across the Midwest, 37 tornadoes would kill 214 people that day, including 109 in Indiana, 59 in Ohio and 36 in Michigan.
Mr. and Mrs. James Imm were driving on state Route 65 near Cairo when the tornado hit. They never made it to their 540 W. McKibben St. home in Lima. Their car was picked up and hurled into a water-filled ditch, where their two children, Scott, 2, and Andrew, 5 months, drowned. James and his wife somehow survived.
Five of the local deaths occurred just outside of Bluffton, including three members of one family: Jo Steiner, 19, his mother, Mrs. Ulysses (Betty) Reichenbach, 42, and Eva Clymer, 75, of Findlay, who was at her daughter’s home.
Some people got lucky. Among them were Ronald Johnson and his seven children. Sitting barefoot in the nurse’s home at Lima Memorial Hospital, he told Pat Collar, a reporter for The Lima News, how they escaped with their lives that evening. He had just put the children, ages 4 to 14, upstairs to bed when he heard a Toledo TV report that Van Wert had been hit by a tornado. He no sooner got six of the children downstairs and under some heavy dining room furniture when the top of his Yant Road house was torn off. The other child, Tony, was asleep on a couch in the living room in front of a big picture window and miraculously survived.
The nation already has experienced the might of a tornado system this year. Thursday saw as many as 10 tornadoes blow through Alabama and Georgia, killing five people and uprooting 100-year-old trees, stripping roofs from houses and seriously damaging schools.
Some safety tips from the National Weather Service and AccuWeather:
• The safest place in a tornado is in the interior part of a basement. If possible, get under something sturdy, like a heavy table. If you do not have a basement or storm cellar, consider an interior room of your house without any windows, such as a bathroom or closet. It’s important to stay on the lowest floor of your home.
• If outside or if you live in a mobile home, seek a safe place in a sturdy building. If there is no safe building nearby, lay flat in a low spot on the ground and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
• There is no safe option when caught in a tornado in a car, just slightly less-dangerous ones. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. … Stay in the car with the seat belt on.
ROSES AND THORNS: A woman who “keeps going” has a spot in the rose garden.
Rose: To Jan Hofacker, of Lima. She lost her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law to cancer two years ago, endured COVID-19 last year and the beginning of this year, then had a tree fall on her apartment Friday. All of that and she keeps a good attitude, noting,“You just got to keep going, I guess. That’s all you can do.”
Rose: Two “interims” are no longer “interim.” Krista Bohn was selected to serve as Allen County treasurer last week, succeeding Evalyn Shaffer, who retired after 25 years. Allen County Children Services named Sarah Newland as the agency’s new director.
Rose: Every police department in Putnam County as well as its sheriff’s office will be getting new AED devices, thanks to a $45,152 grant from the J.E. Belch Charitable Trust. The defibrillators analyze the heart rhythm of someone who may be having a heart attack, and if it detects a problem, it may deliver an electrical shock to restore a normal heart rhythm. The trust was established from the estate wishes of J. Earl Belch, CEO of the Columbus Grove Telephone Company that was started by his father, Joe Belch.
Thorn: A car stolen Tuesday on North Main Street was the sixth motor vehicle stolen in Lima this month.
Thorn: The driver of a van that was believed stolen led five area police agencies on an hour-long high-speed chase shortly after noon Tuesday. It began on Interstate 75 south of Lima, went along U.S. 33, and ended near Short Road and Dixie Highway in Auglaize County.
PARTING SHOT: “Nothing grieves a child more than to study the wrong lesson and learn something he wasn’t supposed to.” — E.C. McKenzie
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.