Palm Sunday Outbreak memorial service this evening

Today is the 40th anniversary of the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak. For anyone interested and in a position to attend, a commemorative service is being held at 6 p.m. at the tornado memorial in Dunlap, Indiana, on the corner of Cole St. and CR45.

Located in the heart of the Sunnyside subdivision, which was obliterated by one of the storms, the memorial is a small but eloquent reminder of what happened in that quiet little neighborhood four decades ago.
A follow-up posting on the commemoration is in order, as the event was quite powerful and packed an unexpected personal twist.

I arrived in the Sunnyside division of Dunlap last night to find the sidestreets lined with cars. A lot of people had made their way to the small memorial park, located where the home of Debbie Forsythe and her family had stood before the tornado swept it away. Debbie lost her little brother, Stevie, in the storm. Her parents chose not to rebuild on the property, and sold the land.

Years later, the owner offered to resell the property to Debbie, now a grown woman. With the old family property in her possession, Debbie dedicated it as a memorial to Elkhart County's 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado victims. When the former owner learned of Debbie's plans, he used the proceeds from the sale to help fund the tornado memorial. The park is a marvelous and touching grassroots labor of love, remembering the victims and recognizing the griefs that still live in the hearts of those who lost loved ones, yet also celebrating life and community, honoring the extraordinary efforts of law enforcement, firemen, Red Cross, and other civic servants and volunteers, and expressing a bright, enduring faith and trust in God.

Speakers included the mayor of Dunlap; a local pastor; the sheriff from Kokomo, Indiana, another hard-hit community; a fireman who was among the first responders after the first tornado hit the Midway Trailer Court just down the road, and who worked around the clock there and in Sunnyside; and the son of the man who sold Debbie Forsythe Waters the property. Music was also provided by some friends of Mrs. Waters.

An event like this is inevitably moving. Reunions take place. People hug, laugh, recognize the face of a long-lost neighbor. And they listen, intently, to the speakers--for the speakers know. They were there. They were an integral part of a tragic yet beautiful story. I looked around at three generations of faces--a hodge-podge of occupations and lifestyles--all listening with what I would describe as profound respect at the very least, and for many, even reverence.

Now, here's the personal twist I mentioned. I had found a place to stand and shoot video. Behind me stood a woman who looked to be in her sixties. When I inquired how she was associated with the event, she told me that she and her husband had lost their child in the Midway Trailer Court, two miles down the road. I left it at that as the speeches were about to commence. But something began to nag at me. And then I remembered....

I was a nine-year old boy living in Niles, Michigan, thirty miles away, and I had just read the newspaper accounts--including the story of a young couple who had lost their baby at Midway. I can still remember the words of the father: "Chris was dead when we found him." For whatever reason, that account had a deep impact on my young heart. I grieved--and I prayed for that family with tears. And now, forty years later...could it be?

When the last of the speakers had finished, I turned to the woman and asked her, "Ma'am, what was the name of your child?"

"His name was Chris," she said.

"I prayed for your baby," I told her. "I was just a little boy, but I read about your loss and I prayed."

Beyond that, there was no need for words. We hugged one of those hugs that lasts and lasts--the hug of connection, of hearts exchanging life and understanding and things that go beyond words to convey. And when we were through, the woman--her name is Pat--told me about that day--a lovely day, a walk with her fifteen-month-old toddler...and how the birds suddenly stopped singing, and the sky turned green...and how, back at the trailer, Chris wrapped his arms around his mommy and daddy's legs and wouldn't let go. He was saying his good-bye to them before the winds arrived, Pat told me. In that moment, he was already more in heaven than on earth, she said. And she showed me a small photograph of little Chris that she carried with her in a heart-shaped frame.

Last night, forty years after one family's tragic loss and a small boy's prayers, a circle was completed. Some would call this coincidence. I call it God, and a holy moment. It is impossible to describe how this has affected me. I'm steeping in it today and thought I'd share the experience with those of you in the storm chasing community who take an interest in such things.