NAPPANEE — Kevin Yoder and his family lost five buildings, 45 trees, seven horses and a couple of steers when the tornado struck his property south of Nappanee five years ago this week.
But somehow, it turned out alright.
Looking back, “I think it was great. I do,” Yoder said.
“I miss all my trees and all that, but it was good for us,” he said.
“Nappanee and Bourbon is tougher than it was. We're better for it,” he said.
The 48-year old businessman who operates a wholesale sewing operation in the Amish area known as Hepton said he had been upstairs when he heard the crackling of trees in a nearby woods and realized what was happening.
He called for his wife and four children to run downstairs, but by the time they reached the kitchen, all of the windows began exploding and there was no time to get to the cellar.
Destruction was massive, but everyone escaped serious injury and death.
The tornado obliterated almost everything except Yoder's house, which was about half destroyed.
The chicken coop was lifted into the air and slammed against the house. Dead chickens were found upstairs.
News of the disaster spread quickly. And to some degree, cleanup and reconstruction seemed to begin almost simultaneously.
Most of the contents of the Yoders' home were salvageable, and family and friends emptied the house by 3 a.m., that night and put the family's belongings in a neighbor's shed.
By Friday and Saturday, hundreds of people had arrived to help clear away the destruction and begin rebuilding.
Based on the number of plates used to serve volunteers during meals, Yoder estimated 500 volunteers were working on his property. Similar scenes were playing out at other nearby Amish homes.
Foundation blocks for some of the buildings were set Friday morning and construction began in earnest Saturday morning when materials began arriving. Except for the roof, Yoder's shop was reconstructed by Saturday night.
“They had this thing organized in no time,” Yoder said.
Within about seven working days, all of Yoder's buildings had been rebuilt. Horses and hay were loaded into the new barn after nine days. It took a few more days to finish off plumbing and other aspects of the house, which had been a story and a half before the storm but was reconstructed as a large, two-story home.
Aside from the outpouring of support, Yoder is especially fond of how government workers responded: the Nappanee city workers who worked non-stop for several days, the thoughtful consideration and leadership of Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson; and the way representatives of Kosciusko County came to his home to speed up the building permit process.
The entire experience left Yoder feeling better about the sense of community, he said.
And it changed his outlook on material things.
“Before, it was mine because I owned it. Now, it's a privilege to have it,” Yoder said.
His favorite memory came on one of those first days as hundreds of people gathered for a meal.
It was time for a prayer and an acknowledgement of thanks, so Yoder felt inclined to speak to the crowd.
He grabbed a five-gallon bucket, turned it upside down and stood on it.
Nervous and fumbling, Yoder said a few words, none of which he can exactly recall.
But when he was done and stepped down, he was greeted by Jackie Walorski, a state representative in the Indiana General Assembly who had come to the farm to lend her support.
The three-word greeting she uttered when he stepped down, Yoder said, is something he'll never forget.
“She goes, 'That was great!'”
Without federal help, city of Nappanee pulled together in recovery
Nappanee emergency workers, volunteers reflect on tornado
Nappanee tornado hit with unusual intensity, unexpected time of day
Nappanee families bounced back, but still feel effects of storm
Quick, “awe-inspiring" volunteer response was instrumental to Nappanee's recovery
Doppler Radar a key in tracking nighttime tornado
Find all these stories and more, including past coverage of the tornado, on our Nappanee Tornado: Five years later page.