1965 Palm Sunday tornado remembrance evokes personal stories, community gathering

The Elkhart County Historical Museum gave a presentation about the Palm Sunday tornadoes on Sunday. Many who attended also recounted their own experiences.

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 12:55 p.m.

BRISTOL — It may have happened nearly 50 years ago, but memories of the 1965 Palm Sunday tornadoes are fresh for many who attended the Elkhart County Historical Museum’s annual remembrance event.

On Sunday afternoon, April 13, the museum hosted an educational talk about the tornado outbreak. Afterward, the 50 or so guests were invited to submit handwritten memories.

Richard Humes of Elkhart was one of the guests who chose to contribute, but he said there are things he remembers from that weekend that he still doesn't like to talk about.

"In the following days, you'd go into work and people weren't laughing and joking. It was like working in a morgue," Humes said.

He recalled the physical damage, too.

"Pieces of straw would just be stuck in the tree like a toothpick," he said.

Leona Yoder came to the event with with her husband, J. Olen Yoder. They were 35 and 45 years old, respectively, when the tornadoes tore through Elkhart County.

On April 11, 1965, they were eating supper when their neighbor called and told them to look out the window, J. Olen said. Sure enough, he saw a tornado.

"I came back and looked out the other side towards east of Goshen, 4 or 5 miles south of us," he said.

There, he saw a second tornado. He called his neighbor back and told him they should each keep an eye on one.

"Then the fun began," he said with a chuckle.

Patrick McGuire, the museum’s curator of education, led the historical presentation. Before delving into the details of what his local research has revealed, he paused for a moment of silence.

“The real reason that we remember the Palm Sunday tornadoes is not just the destruction, but because of those people,” he said, gesturing to a slide naming some of the Elkhart County residents who lost their lives that weekend.

Some facts from McGuire’s presentation:

  • Four tornados passed through Elkhart County, all rated as F4 with wind speeds between 207 and 260 miles per hour.
  • 1,400 people were displaced when their homes were destroyed
  • Damages at the time were estimated at more than $25 million across St. Joseph, Elkhart and LaGrange counties.
  • Thys “John” Van Hout, a Goshen High School sophomore, used his ham radio to report damage and call for help in the wake of downed power and phone lines.

Those who would like to submit their own memories can mail them to the Elkhart County Historical Museum, P.O. Box 434, 304 W. Vistula Street, Bristol, or email them to museum@elkhartcountyparks.org.


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