NAPPANEE -- Jill Mishler did not cry until Sunday morning.
She stood up to the tornado that kept her and her husband, Ron, huddled under a blanket in the corner of their basement Thursday night. She remained strong when she saw the roof of her home gone and the walls crumbled.
Even now, she slightly smiles when she explains their house of two-and-a-half years cannot be rebuilt and must be razed.
But shortly after 9 a.m. Sunday, the tears welled in her eyes and began spilling down her cheeks. She was standing in her yard at 1018 Blackstone Blvd. when she saw hundreds of people walking across the grass. Waving her arms, she said the people just kept coming and coming.
They were among the estimated 2,500 volunteers who descended upon Nappanee to pick up the pieces of wood, metal, glass and insulation left behind from the EF-3 tornado that raged through the city after dark Thursday and destroyed factories, restaurants and houses.
Cars and trucks were stacked along S.R. 19 Sunday morning as friends and strangers gathered at NorthWood High School. There, they boarded yellow school buses and were driven to sections badly damaged by the storm.
"It's just wonderful to know that in this little town we're so close," Mishler said. "You don't know how many friends you have until something like this happens."
Some churches, like Pathway Assembly of God in Middlebury and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bristol, canceled Sunday services and encouraged their congregations to joined the clean up effort.
Nearly 70 members of Pathway spent about three hours walking in a cornfield and removing chunks of rubble from the rows of corn so the farmers can continue harvesting their crops without fear of running over a piece of debris and possibly damaging their equipment.
In addition to clearing the fields, Pathway senior pastor Scott Miller was able to comfort his friend at New Beginnings Assembly of God. That church was destroyed by the tornado.
"The church is more than a building," Miller said, "but at the same time, that building is a place to gather each week."
By early afternoon, much of the work had been finished and the volunteers were gone. Neatly stacked piles of debris sat in front of the damaged homes in the Blackstone subdivision and clumps of light blue garbage bags filled with trash lined the curbs.
Brenda Hall and her family rested on a mattress in the yard of what was left of her mother's house at 1030 Blackstone Blvd. They had expected the job of moving furniture and clearing away the remains to take about two or three weeks but the volunteers teemed in and out of the house, picked up, moved, threw away and finished the task in a number of hours.
"Now we can concentrate on where she's going to live," Hall said of her mother, Ruth Clouse. "We can concentrate on her."
Once the volunteers helped Jeff Pletcher clean the yard of his parents' home on Blackstone, he joined the group as they carried on through the neighborhood.
Recalling the industrious morning and the help from so many people he did not know and would probably never meet again, Pletcher said he did not have the words to describe how he felt.
Mishler did not have the words either. She just had the tears that still glinted on her face and the emotion that choked her voice long after the volunteers had left.
"I saw them coming and the tears just came," Mishler said. "I hadn't really cried until I saw them coming."
Contact Marilyn Odendahl at firstname.lastname@example.org.