City staff donate to tornado victims

Published 9:53 am Thursday, July 16, 2009

Herb Wehner’s life changed in a matter of seconds, but fellow city workers are helping him put it back together.

Wehner’s house was struck by a tornado that ravaged Austin on June 17. He lost a few sheds and a number of trees and bushes, while shingles were ripped from his roof.

Full cleanup will be a lengthy process, but Wehner is getting some help — a number of Austin employees have donated vacation time to him and fellow worker Steve Clark, who’s house was also damaged in the storm, so the two can spend more time working at home.

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“I’m so appreciative of all these city workers,” Wehner, who works in the street department, said.

The plan got the go-ahead from the city council on July 6. To date, 31 employees have donated time, city administrator Jim Hurm said, and Wehner and Clark will both be able to get an extra 80 hours off.

“It’s nice of the city to do that,” Wehner said. “Not many businesses do.”

Austin Administrative Services Director Tom Dankert said he’s seen cases of employees donating time to others for sick leave, but said in his 13 years with the city he doesn’t remember a case quite like this.

“It just shows that city employees are helping their fellow employees out,” he said. “It’s a good thing to do, the right thing to do.”

Wehner said he originally thought the storm would blow over, but when his son told him to come upstairs and look outside, Wehner knew a tornado was on its way.

“I heard it coming, (and) there was metal flying,” he said.

He and his son went downstairs with the rest of the family to wait it out. When it was over, Wehner’s property had substantial damage, but he said he was lucky the house was still standing.

Across the street, Steve Clark lost a garage and injured his hand when the tornado came through.

“Everyone says it’s nice to get a new shed, but this isn’t the way you want to get one,” Wehner said.

The new sheds will come — on Tuesday, Wehner was outside pointing out land that was cleared of debris and will house forthcoming projects.

Wehner’s house also has new shingles.

“It’s still ongoing,” Wehner said of the work. “It’s quite the ordeal.”

Wehner knows that his work could stretch through the summer and fall, which is why he’s so grateful for the extra time off.

One person giving Wehner and Clark a helping hand is Curt Klingfus, a sewer maintenance employee and lifelong friend of Wehner’s.

“They were devastated. I’d be devastated,” Klingfus said. “I couldn’t give them enough time.”

On top of donating vacation time, Klingfus put in some time working at Wehner’s and Clark’s houses.

“It’s a drop in the bucket for what these guys are going through,” Klingfus said.

Wehner said Klingfus was “very generous” with his time.

Klingfus said he was glad to help and said he knows both men would be willing to repay the favor — he just hopes it’s for a less serious situation.

“Hopefully, they can come out and help me pour a new patio,” Klingfus said.

The main thing, Klingfus said, is that his friends and others are alive and well after the storm.

“It’s sad to see these guys work their whole lives for (their houses), and within 30 seconds it changes all that,” he said. “But as long as everybody’s up walking around, thumbs up.”

Wehner is alive and well, and grateful to be receiving so much help.

“It’s nice to know (city workers will) donate time when you’re in need,” he said. “We’re all friends down there.”