Barneveld, WI Tornado, Jun 1984 - Beginning to Live Again


By Roger McBain
of The Journal Staff

Barneveld, Wis. - The tornado that tore through Barneveld last month has taken some of the fun out of camping for Lilas Miller.

Miller and her husband, Albert, lost their home to the twister that leveled most of Barneveld in the early morning hours of June 8, killing nine people.

Fortunately, however, the couple's motor home, in which they had planned to take an Alaska vacation this summer, was in Madison for repairs that day.

The motor home has provided a roof for the Millers while they await a new, pre-fabricated house due to arrive this week.

"This is our Alaska, I guess," mused Miller, as she shrugged and gestured around to the vacant lot that had been the site of the three-bedroom home she had lived in since 1952. All that remained was her garden, which Miller was trying to weed with a shovel.

She is ever thankful that she and her husband have had their motor home to stay in, but she said, "I don't think I'll enjoy camping as much now."

As Barneveld begins the slow process of rebuilding, mobile and temporary housing is apparent everywhere here.

Many in mobile homes

Some 32 Barneveld families are living temporarily in furnished three-bedroom mobile homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the village government and several businesses are operating out of relocatable units.

The Barneveld State Bank was the first business here to take up quarters in a mobile unit, opening in a two-teller trailer just three days after the tornado destroyed the second floor of the 98-year-old institution.

Ron's Country Store was the most recent operation to go mobile, moving into a three-bedroom trailer home last Monday.

Ron Jabs' wife, Anita, runs the store, ringing up sales at a register on a countertop in the kitchen.

In the carpeted living room, an upright freezer and two refrigerators lent by family and friends keep meat and dairy products cold.

A bedroom closet bulges with boxes of dry cereal, and the bathtub overflows with stacks of toilet paper.

Not everyone is working out of mobile quarters, however. Sine the tornado destroyed the Barneveld Post Office, Marie Dimpfl, postmaster for the village, has run her operation from the garage of her home, which was north of the twister's path.

A bright blue collection box stands in the driveway, and the stars and stripes ripple from a flagpole planted in the Dimpfl's front lawn.

Inside the garage, Dimpfl puts in long days sorting mail - alphabetically, since addresses aren't much good these days - and forwarding much of it to families who are temporarily living outside the village while they await new housing.

The long list of forwarding addresses grows steadily shorter, however, said Dimpfl.

"Each day someone's coming in and saying, 'We're back,'" Dimpfl said.

Many building permits

Pat Messinger, Barneveld's village clerk, said she had issued building permits for about 30 new structures and for about 50 repairs or remodelings, an she expects too [sic] issue many more.

Some of Barneveld's elderly residents have decided not to rebuild, but most want to come back to the village and live in apartments, Messinger added.

She said that plans were under way for an additional 12-14 unit apartment building to be added to an elderly housing complex.

Repairs to the school, which had about 300 students in kindergarten through 12th grade last year, should be completed for classes this fall, but School Administrator Dan Woll has requested that the semester begin 6 to 10 days later than ususal, he said.

'Betsy's Cafe' open

Neither of Barneveld's two taverns nor the village's restaurants or coffee shop have reopened.

But Betsy Thronson operates what people here call "Betsy's Cafe" in the Town of Brigham garage. Using donated money, food and volunteers (some of whom have come from as far as Indiana to help out), her crew serves up hundreds of breakfasts, lunches and dinners each day.

And around the corner and down the street, Ruby and Vernon Oimoen have set up what had come to be known as "Ruby's Pub" in their front yard.

Each evening locals gather for several hours at picnic tables there to visit over a cold beer or soft drink. Ruby provides the refreshments with money donated by her guests, she said.

In the six weeks since the tornado, Thronson said she had watched the towne of conversations change. Right after the tornado, victims went through a period of shock, depression, and disorientation, she said.

Gradually that has changed, however, to the point where mealtimes are marked by smiles, jokes and laughter said Thronson.

"It's good to see them back teasing each other again," she said. "It's good to hear the laughter."

The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI 23 Jul 1984