It only took 38 seconds for the twister of March 2, 2012, to rip through the Town of Holton, taking with it three lives and destroying over 100 families' homes and belongings.
Thirty-eight seconds. That short amount of time seemed like a lifetime as Wilbur Myers of Holton tolled the church bell for exactly that amount of time as a large crowd sat in remembrance and respect for the lives gone from their community a year ago.
The remembrance event took place Saturday, March 2 at the Holton Christian Church with Pastor Bob McCreary greeting a packed house at 3:00 p.m. He said those 38 seconds rocked his world and "changed our world forever." Some of those gathered at the event had actually taken shelter in the basement of that very church on the day of the tornado.
Words of comfort, tears of sadness and joy, were given as various speakers were lined up to talk about the tornado, the loss, and the progress and celebration of new hope for the town.
Nothing will diminish the fact that three lives were lost. However, members of the Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) spoke to the fact that they are moving forward, trying to get displaced residents in homes. Still there are eight families basically homeless from the tornado.
The upside is the number of volunteers and people who have come forward to help a little town in need.
Darin Kroger, construction manager of the LTRG, said that he has seen God every day in the whole process through the hands and feet of the cheerful and selfless volunteers. "People came, even during a July heat emergency to help build storage sheds for people affected by the tornado," he tearfully told the crowd. He thanked the town for allowing him to be a part of their community.
"If I could, I would wave a magic wand to make it all go away," Keith Swinney noted, speaking of the tragedy that took his best friend and band member, Ronnie Pickett.
However, Swinney composed himself and said he could see "God's light shining brightly in Holton." He noted a rainbow that was in the sky after the tornado, while he was still in the field with his friend, Pickett, waiting for EMS services to arrive. He said he knew God was in the details even as he heard people screaming and crying with all the chaos around him. He said the rainbow let him know that "Ron was okay." He encouraged people in Holton to "hold on to the memories."
Swinney was the coordinator for the Holton Bash that in cooperation with the Napoleon State Bank raised over $30,000 for victims. He is still collecting money from CD and T-shirt sales and handed a check to Rachel Grossman, LTRG chair.
Grossman told of her feelings of fear as she hunkered down in a vault at the Friendship State Bank in Friendship, where she is employed. She said a call from her mom saying her children were okay brought her spirits up. But, the next words, "the town is just gone," left her dismayed. She came into town as quickly as possible and like others stayed as long as was needed.
She said a grant from Eli Lilly gave the town a "glimmer of hope" along with the many others such as United Way, Ripley County Community Foundation, the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Catholic Charities to name a few. She reminded those in attendance of the local fire department, EMTs and police who stayed on duty around the clock after the tornado.
Cynthia Melton, case manager for the LTRG, addressed the crowd saying, "This is my town and my family…and Holton will still be my town, my family until the day I die." She praised the volunteers and thanked the hundreds of people from various churches.
Phillip Deiwert, volunteer coordinator for the LTRG, also thanked the volunteers and all those who donated materials and labor to rebuild the Town of Holton. He especially mentioned Steve and Sharon Rees of the Holton Food Mart for their continued support.
Members of the band, Common Ground, Jack Bustle and Ronnie Deaton, sang ‘Amazing Grace' as photos scrolled on the big screen showing the devastation and then recovery process in Holton.
After the service, the crowd moved outside where they were led by the town marshal, Bob Curl, up the path the tornado took with three firefighters carrying wreaths to be placed to honor the lives of Victor Armando Hernandez Carranza, Ronnie Pickett, and Ted Tolbert.
Several in the crowd told the Osgood Journal that the service was "touching" and "healing" and were thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it. "I just wasn't sure what this would be like, but it's been real good," Tess Arnold of Holton, who lost her brother-in-law, Ted Tolbert, in the tornado, noted. She also has concerns for her sister, Brenda, who still suffers from injuries sustained in the tornado.
Family members and friends placed the wreaths as prayers were given with words of encouragement for the town residents to be strong and look for the good things that are in progress.
State Representative Randy Frye, who was on the scene of the tornado almost immediately a year ago, was also in the audience at the remembrance service. He noted, "I am truly encouraged by the sight of our community coming together to help one another during this time of rebuilding. He went on to say while the tornado took its toll on everyone, a year later broken pieces are still being mended. "One thing that was not damaged was the passion and strength of our community. People from all walks of life were affected by this disaster. They came together to help fix what was lost, ruined, and damaged. As a community we have lifted up those in need and have tended to the wounds the tornado left."
Frye concluded, "Houses and businesses can be destroyed, but the passion and strength a community has for one another can never be broken."