REMEMBERING THE 1957 TORNADO


Digested from Wikipedia: "The 1957 Fargo tornado was a violent and deadly tornado that struck Fargo, North Dakota, on Thursday, June 20, 1957. The F5 tornado was part of a larger system of storms that resulted in five separate tornadoes in the immediate region. The third and most destructive, referred to individually as the Fargo tornado, struck the north Fargo area in the early evening, causing major devastation. Twelve people lost their lives. Damage was extensive and included 100 blocks of Fargo. The worst residential damage occurred in the Golden Ridge Subdivision, much of which was swept away and scattered across a nearby farm field. Approximately 329 homes were destroyed and some of them were completely swept off their foundations - a classic example of F5 damage. An additional 1035 homes were damaged. Fifteen farm homes were destroyed and 25 damaged. Four churches and three schools were damaged. Fifteen businesses were destroyed and 30 suffered major damage." Full Article.

Dave Williams reminded our class, on our Conversational eMail Listing, of the 60th anniversary of that devastation. In response, the following comments and memories were in response.


Dave Williams
Class,
I was sure that someone would send out a reminder that today (June 20th) is the 60th anniversary of the great Fargo tornado of 1957. Since no one else has a story, I'll start with mine.
This was one of the most significant events of my entire life. Although our house was largely untouched by the tornado when it suddenly took a right angle turn to the east over El Zagel golf course and crossed the Red River into Minnesota. However, my Dad's business was completely destroyed. He built and managed a fertilizer plant in West Fargo for the Peavey company. In one night his future became a large unknown as did my future. The company decided not to rebuild the plant and he was transferred to Minneapolis. During my senior year at central he worked in Minneapolis and commuted home so I could finish at Fargo Central with my class of 1958.
We all moved to St. Louis Park, MN and I started college at the University of Minnesota. None of this had been in the plan as I had planned to attend either NDAC or NDU in Grand Forks.
Subsequently I finished college at St. Cloud State University and my career has taken me to Duluth, MN and Des Moines, IA for the last 40 years. I have helped raise two great children and have a great wife for the last 20 years.
The funny thing is none of it would have happened without the tornado. My entire life would have been different. Probably not better because it is very good but it certainly would have been different than it has been.
That's my story relating to the Great June 20th 1957 Fargo Tornado. If anyone else has one, please share it!! Dave Williams

Jane Ann Hunter
Thanks for the reminder, Jim! That was a night non of us will forget! Living on the south side of town was fortunate for our family, but I remember the devastation of Golden Ridge in particular. Thanks for your story!
Jane Ann (Hunter) Hyjek

Don Bergoust
We watched the thing hit NW Fargo from our back yard in SW Fargo. It was very wide. I was working on the schoolboard’s woodshop crew with our instructors at Agassiz and reassigned to a salvage crew and spent 24 hours straight catching rainwater pouring through the roof. I think it was Roosevelt school.
The cops had the area cordoned off and a few of us “workers” in my 47 ford were almost denied access to the school. We had to do some fast thinking and explaining.
Donnie Bergoust

James Teigen
I vividly recall cowering in the basement of our house in the 700 block of north 3rd street, as debris filled the air and drifted down all over. We were about 4 or 5 blocks away, and the the roar was replaced by the wail of multiple sirens. Dave Williams and I worked at Studebaker dealer and towed many cars back to the body shop in the next couple weeks.
I spent the next day helping my future sister-in-law, Sonja Leverson's family salvage furniture from their roofless home on College St. in the rain. Her mother and brother were badly injured whe they attempted to make it home from Mickelson Field, and were caught on a porch which was deposited on top of them when it was blown into the next house.
I remember my answer to neighbors in New Orleans who asked what to do as tornados were spawned during a hurricane in 1964. "Go to the basement!" No one laughed at the fact that any basement in N.O. would be under water.
Not all memories are positive.
James Teigen
805-437-9844

Sandy Nelson
I also remember it well. I was visiting my grandparents on 5th street north about the 1700 block. My house was on 5th street as well, 1209 5th St. North. El Zagel Golf course was in the middle and the tornado went right between and flattened many homes just north of us. I remember a baby blew out of the arms of a young couple walking on the golf course and they later found the baby alive in a bush. My parents were at our lake cottage on Pelican and were frantically trying to get through the maze of destruction to reach us, which took them many hours.
My uncle was traveling for Patterson Dental Supply in Western North Dakota or Montana when he heard about the tornado in Fargo. He tried to call home without success, but was eventually able to reach the Fargo Theater to find out any news. They told him that three children of the Munson family had died on the north side of Fargo. He had three children, lived on the north side of Fargo and his name was Muncy. He drove all night in a state of panic but thankfully found that his family was safe.
Sandy Nelson McCabe

Chickie Arneson
I remember watching it from the back yard while I was trying to get Dad in the house we lived on 8th Ave and 4th St So. We could see it and hear it. My Mom was pregnant with my youngest sister due at that time. Actually she was born the week after, Mom had to be in the hall 'cause all the beds were full. Anyhow at 4 am the morning after the tornado Dad got us up and we went out North to check on friends that lived on the North side. Sure was something !!! Chickie Arneson Bakkemo

Dennis Shafer
I lived at 1125 N 4th Street at the time of the tornado, but was with my mom buying groceries on S 13th street when we noticed the tornado. I was a newly licensed driver and not very smart. We loaded up and headed north towards the black roaring fury. There was a solid line of cars going south trying get out of it’s path and as we got closer I began to have to drive around debris in the street. Trees, branches and numerous other things were strewn all over and still falling but we continued northward as the wind whipped around us. We finally made it home and found everyone safe and the house unharmed.
However, that summer I was working for the Fargo School Board at Ben Franklin Junior High. The day after the tornado Mr. Wambien (the music teacher at Ben Franklin – don’t know if that is the way to spell his name) assigned me to pick up broken glass in the upper story class rooms. I was told to put the glass in small boxes and take them down to the boiler room where they would later be picked up for disposal. All I could find was a large cardboard box that four dozen boxes of Kleenex had previously filled. I dragged it from room to room filling it with broken glass and then slid it down the hall and slid it down the various steps until I reached the boiler room below street level where I left it and went home at quitting time. The next day I was working at a school on the south side and Mr. Wambien called whoever was looking after me that day and asked them to have report to Ben Franklin posthaste. I knew what the problem was so I hustled over to Ben Franklin and went directly to the boiler room and unloaded most of the heavy box into numerous smaller ones which I hid and then went to find Mr. Wambien. When I asked him what the problem was he cussed me out and told me to follow him to the boiler room where he proceeded to point out that no one could lift the large box of broken glass and that he had specifically told me to use small boxes. I walked over to the large box, the lid was closed so he couldn’t see that I had emptied most of it, bent down and picked it up while asking him where he wanted it deposited. He called me a little horse after he got over his shock and his mouth closed and eyes back to normal. When I began laughing I suspect I was his mental target of physical harm and additional mayhem, but he did recover and I was only minimally punished by him the rest of the summer.
Dennis Shafer

Darlene Knutson
https://www.weather.gov/fgf/fargo57tornado_damage

Karen Wold
I remember the tornado well. The roar was incredible and we were in the basement under the ping pong table, although we lived on the south side, so were spared. Later Margaret Hamilton and I (as I remember, along with others) rode on the back of a truck and brought coffee to National Guard soldiers who had been activated to help with the devastation, security and clean-up.(“Coffee, soldier?”) I remember surrealistic sights like a bathtub hanging from the side of a house that had been slashed right down the middle.
All of these memories are interesting to read. They show what a seminal and life-changing event that was.
Karen Wold Rechtschaffen

Lon Cooke
My wife has most of the tornado stories. She lived kitty corner from Shanley High School. When the tornado hit, she, her mother and her dog were huddled in the basement of their house. When the tornado had passed, with all its noise and dirt, they came out of the basement and looked up. There was nothing there.
There is a lot more about what happened to Shanley and going back to school there but she would have to tell it. It is a long story.
Lon Cooke

Mary Colwell
Lon, your wife's story is really terrifying. How does one recover from that! Is it painful for her to recall that day?
A group of us (girls) were at a conference for YWCA(?) at Gustavus(?) on that day. I remember a lot of scared girls trying to reach their homes for reports on their families.
The next day, I believe, there was a tornado warning and we were herded into a gym or something with a lot of huge windows. The storm did not develop into a tornado, thankfully.
My mother always made us go to the basement at the slightest whiff of a storm. After a few minutes, she would go back upstairs to "check things out." Your wife's mother was much wiser.

Jim Lanier
My dad, Bill Lanier, was painting our house. My mother said, "Billy, a tornado is coming down 3rd Avenue." He refused to come down until she determined which 3rd Avenue.

Linda Person
I remember the day of the tornado very well. I was at the Fargo Theater watching a movie with my boyfriend, Norm Vennerstrom (later to be my husband), when the movie was stopped and an announcer told us that "there is a bit of bad weather outside". So those of us in the audience walked outside of the front of the theater and watch the clouds swirl above us in the sky. After a short time, we were told the movie would resume, and all of us went back into the theater and watched the rest of the movie . When we got into Norm's car to drive home and turned the radio on, it was broadcasting about "the tornado that hit Fargo". We were shocked by the news for nothing had not told about it while in the theater. Driving a bit north on Broadway, we soon saw the disaster.
That summer I was working for the Fargo Park District at a program called "Playtown "housed at Clara Barton School. A few days after the tornado, some of the children left homeless from the storm came to our "Playtown" to get a bit relief from the disaster they experienced. They were welcomed with opened arms.
Linda Person Vennerstrom Hassoun

George Sandul
Class,
Am I remembering correctly that there was a minor tornado (or possibly high winds) the following year in 1958 that tore down a business building (maybe a warehouse) in the northwest part of Fargo that had went down in the 1957 tornado and had in the meantime been rebuilt? George Sandul

Ben Woessner
You remember right George. It was on 7th Ave No. About 25th St. It was a seed warehouse being built by Beaton Cont. I worked for him as a laboror. We had just tacked down the sheet metal on the roof that afternoon. About a month later a farmer drove into the construction sight and asked if we lost any wheel Bower's. He was from Georgetown, MN.
Yes we built that building twice in a year and a half. That's where I earned the money to buy the white stud.

Elmer Nord
Yes, I remember June 20, 1957 very well. I had been working in the afternoon at a truck garden south of Fargo, off of US 81. It was a warm sunny afternoon, however as late afternoon approach, the dark clouds began to build in the west. I got home (Oakland Ave So.) from work about 5:30, and it started to get very dark. Glen Horlocker lived next door and he was standing outside watching the clouds. I went outside and we watched what began to be debris flying through the air. He commented that it didn't look very good. I can't remember who it was that came by, but we climbed into my 1950 Chevy and headed north. When we approached the tornado area on the Northside, we couldn't believe the devastation. Power lines were down, some houses leveled and others were severely damaged, ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars were racing all around us. We were in a state of shock and decided to simply get out of the way. We then went back home and thought how blessed we were that we weren't part of the horrendous devastation. The best I can recall, it seemed to have taken about a 2 block swath across most of the Northside.

Patti Roach
Good story. I remember cleaning up the yard before the insurance adjustor had a chance to evaluate the damage. Part of our house was damaged and trees had broken branches but the worst was how long Dad had to work supervising repair of the NSP lines. We all owe him thanks for the days and nights he worked.
Patti

George Baker
I remember the tornado very well. Our home was at 1016 College Street. Although I wasn’t home at the time my parents were. My mother was in the basement trying to talk my dad into coming down. He stayed at the back door watching the tornado until it took our garage. Then he decided he’d better get in the basement. The garage was destroyed. Our house received quite a bit of damage. Besides the windows being blown out, it lifted the roof and broke the rafters, shifted the house and cracked the foundation, and left a huge pile of trees in the yard.

I was at work at the time and we watched the storm out the windows. I worked part time as an orderly in the surgical wing of St. Lukes Hospital. I was working that evening when it got to be very busy in a short time. There were five surgical rooms and every one was occupied, with two patients in one room.. One of the orthopedic Doctors (I can’t remember which one) was working in the hallway. He was putting a woman in a traction unit and drafted me to help him. I later found out it was one of my neighbors. Needless to say, there were Doctors and storm patients throughout the hospital.

At daylight the next day, we were able to see the full extent of the damage in the area. There were a lot of homes in our neighborhood that were damaged, several beyond repair. Trees and debris were everywhere. The Red Cross was surveying the area for a damage assessment. I was setting on the front steps when they came by. After surveying our house they looked at the huge pile of trees in our side yard and commented on how we were luckier than the house under all the trees. There was no house under the trees, just grass. My Dad’s uncle came in from Hawley with his truck to help us clean up. He got one load removed and before he could get back for a second load, others had already filled his truck.

The North Dakota ethic was displayed throughout the whole episode. Farmers came in with their trucks. Churches opened the kitchens and served hot food. Contractors brought in heavy equipment. One of the neighbors commandeered a boom truck that Northern Improvement had left in the area on a previous job. The company refueled it and left it with him to use. The police and guard kept out the sightseers and the looters. Volunteers brought chain saws and it didn’t take too long before everything was cleaned up. Eventually the homes were repaired and some new homes were built. As a testament to the neighborhood, the new homes were rebuilt on the site of their old homes. I don’t recall anyone moving after the storm.

Jerry Quam
I was in Fargo on the South side; heard the roar; went out on the roof and watched it go thru "Golden Ridge" and North Fargo; Pete Froggner (1957) said his dads Cadillac at the V.A. was picked up and moved almost a block; after the Tornado Bob Kersch (1957) and I volunteered for the "Red Cross" drove thru Golden Ridge handing out sandwiches in Bobs 1947 Ford Convertable. Mass destruction Jerry

Dan Kruse
I was working at the airport for Air Activities, Inc, as ground crew for their agricultural spraying operation. We were working in the Enderlin area when we (my pilot and I) heard on the radio that a tornado had hit Fargo doing substantial damage. Later we heard that it had hit the north side. I was somewhat relieved as my family lived on the south side, but my pilot was concerned as his family lived on the north side. We decided to fly back to Fargo. My seat was astride the chemical tank behind the pilot. Very limited space, no seat belt, don't tell the FAA, please... we landed in Fargo without tower clearance as there was no power at the time. I was given a red jeep to drive which worked out great as I was waved on through all the road blocks. The amount of damage and devastation was unbelievable.
Dan Kruse

Comments were posted 20 June - 6 July 2017