Keshena, WI tornado Apr 1984

LAKE HOME A LEGEND NOW

Tornado Tears Up Summer House, Sweeps it Into Lake

By Thomas Heinen
of the Journal Staff

Keshena, Wis. - The wooden name plaque from Jim Skabitzky's vacation home floated to the north shore of Legend Lake, long before the Town of Waukesha resident had any idea that the home no longer existed.

He and his wife, Lee, had returned to Waukesha Thursday night after spending two days at the lake. Had they varied their vacation schedule by 20 hours or so, they quite possibly would have been killed by the tornado that tore their summer home apart and swept it into the lake, he said.

The reality of that was sinking in Saturday afternoon as Skabitzky gazed into the lake at his homesite on the south shore.

"I see half of my kitchen table down there somewhere," he said.

Other debris, including a large bird house "hotel," he had erected on a steel pipe earlier in the week, was bobbing in the water at the opposite side of the lake. There was little left but uprooted trees, scrap wood, a fishing boat and some other damaged posessions at the home site.

Bird Houses Untouched

Three brightly colored bird houses in a small tree nearby were untouched.

"It took the pipe and just folded it right over, and yet it didn't touch the birdhouses," he said. "Those are intact, no problem and 20 feet away from them the damn steel pipe is folded right over."

The first clue Skabitzky had that something was wrong when was his wife read in the paper Saturday morning that Legend Lake had been hit by a tornado Friday afternoon. He couldn't get accurate information over the phone, so he drove up to check things out, arriving about 2:30 p.m. Saturday. He was stunned.

His house was gone, and so was a home west of it. An A-frame home to the east had been pulled completely off its foundation.

A neighbor a few doors east, Steve Jende, 60, of Appleton, lost about 20 oak and poplar trees on his once heavily wooded home site, but his home sustained only minor damage when a 16-inch diameter oak tree fell onto it.

Trees down

Dozens of trees on a thickly wooded lot next to Jende's house were bowed and toppled in unison in the sandy soil as if suction from the tornado had pulled them all in the same direction like so many weeds.

Jende had been in the Minneapolis area the day before near where he said a tornado had been sighted. He arrived Saturday to check out his property.

"It's mainly instant landscaping," he quipped. They [the trees] don't grow fast, it's going to be a different lot from now on."

Skabitzky's loss hit him particularly hard because he had designed and completed the home's interior himself after purchasing the unfinished shell about four years ago.

"The first thing I saw was the devastation," he said. "I had a very sinking feeling. Now, I'm just in shock....

"Yesterday afternoon [Friday] I watched a tornado go through Waukesha from the back door of the Fox Run Bowling Alley. It awed me, the amount of power that it had. I surely didn't expect it [here]."

Sheriff's deputies said several homes on the north side of the lake were heavily damaged.

Hilary Waukau Sr., Menominee County emergency government director, said a preliminary damage estimate at Legend Lake was about $1 million. He said 12 houses had been destroyed, seven extensively damaged and that forest damage was heavy. Most of the houses were summer houses, he said.

"I guess we were lucky it happened yesterday, not on a Saturday when many people would have been in those homes," Waukau said.

The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI 29 Apr 1984