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Fairdale: One year later – hope and new beginnings

Posted: April 10 2016 at 12:00 AM
Author: Anne Marie Gerhardt

The sounds of a hammer nailing new siding on a home, children playing in a brand new, brightly colored park and cheers for first responders filled the air in Fairdale on a sunny Saturday in April. They were sounds of new beginnings and hope at a remembrance and celebration one year after a deadly EF-4 tornado decimated the small, unincorporated DeKalb County community on April 9, 2015.

“Today was a loving day and a sharing day,” said Sharon Kersten, a member of First United Methodist Church in Dixon and a Red Cross case worker who helped victims of the tornado find shelter the night of the storm. Kersten joined other volunteers, dignitaries and residents at a special gathering to mark the one year anniversary of the tornado which took the lives of two women and destroyed 70 buildings and homes in a six block area.

Family and friends place roses on a memorial bench dedicated in honor of the two women who lost their lives in the tornado.

On this day, Habitat for Humanity broke ground for a new home start to add to the 15 new homes already rebuilt and nearly 30 others which have been restored. Family members placed pink roses on a plaque and memorial bench in honor of the two victims, Geri Schultz and Jackie Klosa. A year of emotions came flooding back.

“Let this bench always remind us of our shared loss but also our shared commitment to life of dignity and peace,” said Vice President of the DuPage County Long Term Recovery Corporation Bill Nicklas to the those gathered who were seen hugging each other and wiping away tears.

“I recognize that in each of you are stories from this storm and disaster that represent a lot of loss and I think it’s important to remember all of that loss,” said Bishop Sally Dyck who spoke during the ceremony. “As I look around I see that many of you are the people who have spent the past year rebuilding your houses, rebuilding your town, rebuilding your businesses, this park, planting trees and making home.”

Donna Turner, a member of First United Methodist Church in Kirkland, helped lead the DeKalb County Long Term Recovery team and said while the community has come a long way, there is much more to do.

Bishop Dyck recognized the resiliency of the Fairdale residents during a ceremony marking the one year anniversary of the tornado.

“I think today puts closure for some people ,” she said as she served up cake. “But it’s not the end of anything. There’s still a lot of work to do and money to raise.”

The Long Term Recovery Committee had to raise $1.6 million dollars on their own through private donations to help with infrastructure and rebuilding since the disaster didn’t qualify for federal emergency aid.

Governor Bruce Rauner, who wrote a personal check as a donation in the days after the storm, thanked the volunteer firefighters and first responders as well as the hundreds of volunteers from DeKalb County, across the state of Illinois and even other states who helped the families in the recovery process.

“Fairdale is not as strong as its houses or its trees. It is as strong as its community,” said the Governor.

Kris Habermehl, a firefighter and EMT with the Kirkland Fire Department talks with Rev. Kay Kyeongah Woo and Bishop Dyck about the rescue efforts following the deadly tornado.

Many of those volunteers came from the neighboring, close-knit town of Kirkland. “We’re two different towns but since I was a little child, we’ve always been a part of one another. They’re our brothers and sisters,” said Lorene Finkle, a Kirkland First UMC member. “So when this happened, you felt their pain and the need to be there for them and to support them in everything.”

Kirkland First UMC reached out in the days, hours and months following the disaster with prayer services, monetary donations, and emotional support.

“We as a church became stronger and unified through this disaster. It was a blessing for us to stand together and to be known in the community as a support for them,” said Kirkland First UMC’s Rev. Kay Kyeongah Woo who served as the co-chair of Spiritual/Emotional Subcommittee of the Long Term Recovery Team. “We all came out together supporting each other and praying for each other.”

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Family and friends place roses on a memorial bench dedicated in honor of the two women who lost their lives in the tornado.

Fairdale residents expressed their gratitude for all those who stood by them as they continue to rebuild their lives and community as one of the victim’s daughters choked back tears uttering, “thank you, thank you.”

“No matter what you did – prayers, volunteering, being in contact with people – it all mattered. We mattered. They mattered. We’re family,” said Finkle.

As Red Cross wraps up its assistance, Kersten said she’s seen more than brick and mortar change. “It’s great to see some of the faith come back into the community,” she said. “One of the biggest questions was ‘why did God do this to us?’ The faith change is great to see. It’s a new beginning.”

At the end of the celebration, children eagerly opened new kites and ran through the park letting them soar through the bright blue sky – as this community holds on to the promise of new beginnings.

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