Glenville still recovering from tornado

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Main Street in Glenville looks a lot different than it did one year ago.

Some would say it looks a lot nicer -- except for the lack of trees -- and it does, but the improvements came at great cost to the community and its residents.

"It's been a long year," said Glenville Mayor Wes Webb.

Email newsletter signup

At 7 p.m. on May 1, 2001, a tornado touched down at the western end of Main Street and traveled across town, destroying or damaging everything it touched. Within a few minutes, several businesses had been destroyed -- a life's work turned to rubble in just about the blink of an eye.

Sandy Steene remembers that night well, even though it didn't start out

being a very memorable evening.

"At first, I didn't even know there was a tornado," she said. She works

as the receptionist at Com-Tek, one of the businesses that had it's building

destroyed, but she was at her own home in the country during the time the

tornado hit Glenville.

It had rained quite a bit, and there was wind, but it never got really

dark and stormy -- what she would expect to see if there had been a tornado.

she said. After the rain stopped, she and her husband, who owns a carpet

business, started making a delivery, but when they drove into town and saw

all the people downtown and trees on the ground, they realized something

major had happened.

Today, although many of the trees haven't been replaced yet, several of

those damaged homes have new siding and roofs. Businesses have mostly

relocated into rebuilt or newly built quarters.

Knutson Oil, which was destroyed in the tornado, has been rebuilt across

the street from its old location. Webb has rebuilt Com-Tek, his business, in

a new location on Main Street. Dan Martinson, owner of Glenville Plumbing,

which was next door to the old Com-Tek, rebuilt his business in the same

spot. Vance and Linda Mickelson and their daughter Nicole Stromley have

reopened the Office Bar on Main, which was heavily damaged, and expanded it

to include a restaurant.

At the Speltz Elevator, where the tornado trashed two grain bins,

scattering tons of corn, leaders are still pondering whether to rebuild. It

will depend on whether the area demonstrates a need for more storage

capacity, the company says.

Some Main Street buildings were not replaced. A car wash the tornado

leveled was not rebuilt, and the tornado did the town a favor by knocking

down two other dilapidated buildings.

The community's main tornado siren is being replaced, with work being

undertaken to upgrade the whole system to provide the town with a better

warning system. Last year when the tornado hit, the siren never sounded. A

new system would have a backup power source so it will still sound if the

electricity supply is cut.

And the tornado helped get the attention of outsiders, including civil

servants in Washington. There's a good chance that the community will have a

new senior living facility, thanks to an interest-free loan from the federal


"I think the recovery has been just fantastic; a lot of good things have

happened here. In some ways it's better than what we could have expected, in

terms of bouncing back," said Webb.

Many residents of Glenville who returned this spring from their winter

vacations in Arizona found it hard to believe the changes since last fall,

said Larry Knutson, co-owner of Knutson Oil, one of the businesses that had

to rebuild. They came home and said "wow," said Knutson. It's all they could


While the majority of people in the community have managed to bring

things back from destruction, the year hasn't been the best for some, as

they have had more trouble rebuilding their homes, businesses and lives

since the tornado appeared. Many times they discovered, after the tornado,

that their insurance didn't cover that kind of disaster.

Stan Bremseth is among those who had to wait to repair and renovate his

business, Stan's Corner Market.

"It's been a long year, and some people still haven't settled with their

insurance providers," Bremseth said. Four other property owners are still

waiting, trying to find ways to deal with the tornado's legacy.

Among those who have managed to pull their property and lives back

together is Dan Bolhuis. One year ago he was recovering from a broken hip

when he heard the report of a tornado on Broadway. Looking out the door, he

saw dark clouds low enough to touch the power poles behind his house. It was

enough for him. Within a few minutes he, his wife, and his granddaughter

were in the basement. There was a scary moment when the bricks from their

toppled chimney starting falling on the outside door to their basement.

"They just flew off and hit the cellar door, making a terrible noise,"

said Bolhuis. They expected the worst when they came out after things

quieted down. And things could have been worse, but they found plenty of

problems: shingles were off the roofs of both their house and garage, and

their whole house had been twisted just enough to cause cracks to form

throughout the structure, although it was never in any danger of falling


Bolhuis remembers a heavy, musty smell in the air, as the tornado passed

through town, and then the smell of natural gas because of a leak.

Bolhuis's sons helped out with the cleanup, since he was still recovering

from his injury, and they spent a night at their daughter's house in Albert

Lea when they couldn't get back into town on May 2 after leaving for a

doctor's appointment.

Peggy Williamson is another resident who sees good coming out of a

terrible situation.

"I believe it brought the town closer together, and it made us start

cleaning things up," Williamson said.

Although Williamson's house was well away from the direct path of the

tornado, they lost several trees. The drama of the storm also had a

lingering effect with her daughter, who was scared of every storm after


"It made us realize that we couldn't take things for granted," said


And kids aren't the only ones who get scared. Webb knows adults who

still get nervous when the skies start to darken and storm clouds threaten.

The recovering and rebuilding efforts will continue for awhile yet.

Plans for upgrading the tornado warning system should be finalized this

month, said Webb.

The next major community-wide project takes place on Saturday, May 4. A

tree-planting effort, organized by Mitchell Meier, a Boy Scout working on

his Eagle Scout project, and supported by a grant from Alliant Energy, will

replace trees on Main Street and various other locations around town. At

noon there will be a gathering at noon in the park near the elementary


There will be another community-wide gathering and time of remembrance

later in the month, said Webb, but no date has been set yet.