Nappanee reflects on 2007 destruction, celebrates rebuilding structures, spirits

NAPPANEE — Bud and Verlyn Reinhart still recall the evening of Oct. 18, 2007, as if it just happened yesterday. That was the night an EF3 tornado swept through the southern and eastern portions of the city leaving behind more than $80 million in destruction.
“They told us Lincoln Street was all wiped out,” said Bud Reinhart who recalls the desperate feeling he had to find his wife in their home located at 956 E. Lincoln St.. His panic only worsened when it took him more than an hour to travel one mile from work to home.
“He thought our house was gone,” said Verlyn Reinhart. “He didn’t think he was going to find me.”
Home alone, Verlyn had heard reports of a tornado headed toward Nappanee. She began gathering things to head for a neighbor’s basement. She was stopped short of exiting the home as she witnessed pressure from the tornado forcing the door to the attic up and down, threatening to burst through it.
“I could feel the pressure,” she said. “We just live half a block from where it (the tornado) came through.”
Memories of that night remain fresh in the minds of both Reinharts. Still they are grateful that their home survived the ordeal with only a few damages, not total destruction. Bud Reinhart is exceptionally grateful that his beloved wife, Verlyn, was found and is still with him.
The Reinharts’ story was just one of many to be discovered inside a tent, this year on Oct. 18, during a community celebration titled “We All Survived — Five Years Later.” The “We All Survived” slogan was featured on T-shirts printed for Nappanee residents following the disaster.
During the celebration former Nappanee resident/community activist Linda Yoder described her experience as director of the Northern Indiana Tornado Relief Organization (NITRO) which was a group began by city leaders immediately following the tornado. Yoder discussed the amount of destruction, support of volunteers, and monetary donations. Following the tornado approximately 14,712 volunteers from throughout the Michiana area — as well as 12 other states — stepped in to help clean up roadways and properties for residents directly in the tornado’s path. The many volunteers also helped clear the debris from 1,300 acres of local farm fields. Approximately 700 downed and damaged trees were cleaned up as well.
“It showed the true resilience of the people here, and the generosity of so many others,” said Linda Yoder. “And I saw what a truly beautiful community this was, and still is.”
An estimated $677,000 in monetary donations to help with reconstruction of the city was donated. The funds came from all over the United States, as well as a group from Taiwan, and donations from various locations in Canada.
“People came together” said Pastor Mick Tomlinson with great appreciation. Tomlinson is the minister of New Beginnings Church, 901 S. Main St., Nappanee, where the city celebrated five years of survival and rebirth following the tornado. The site also represents the southern edge of where the path of destruction began for Nappanee.
The pastor admitted that for his congregation the tornado turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Before the tornado we (the church) had over $200,000 in debt,” said Pastor Tomlinson. “Now we are completely out of debt.”
The newly-built church was completely destroyed when the tornado passed thru the property. After insurance was collected, enough donations were made to the church to equal more than $900,000. Now church members work through many avenues of outreach to return the love, prayer and support they received from so many to the entire Nappanee community.
Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson thanked all news media outlets for getting the story to people nationwide and worldwide. He credited the articles and news broadcasts for alerting the generous souls who reached out to Nappanee through volunteerism, monetary donations, prayer and other forms of support.
Tammy Workman remembers hearing of tornadoes west of Nappanee and heading to the basement for emergency supplies. She returned upstairs to see Mike Hoffman, WNDU News Center 16 Meteorologist, alerting that the tornado was coming into Nappanee.
“We headed to the basement and were there until the next morning,” said Workman, a Locke Street resident on the western edge of the Lincoln Street destruction. “I thank Mike Hoffman (for warning us in time) and Mayor Thompson (for relief efforts following tornado),” said Robert Workman.
“Yes! They’re what really made the difference!” said Tammy Workman.
“We are just a face through all of this,” said Meteorologist Mike Hoffman as he addressed the group of approximately 100 present at the celebration. “And I am touched when I hear someone say ‘you saved my life’.”
Hoffman — who remained on the air throughout the night covering the tornado’s approach, passage and updates following the touchdown in Nappanee — also recognized his staff behind the scenes collecting information for him to broadcast. He asked people to remember all of those workers when giving thanks and appreciation.
The meteorologist admitted there was a personal link to the Nappanee community.
“All the cities in our broadcast area are important to me,” said Hoffman, “but as I watched the tornado headed to Nappanee I thought ‘I know someone in Nappanee.’”
Hoffman and Mayor Thompson first became friends when both lived in Delphi, Ind., decades ago.
During his speech Nappanee Mayor Thompson recognized the presence of many local police, fire and paramedic emergency service members who had helped reach people in their destroyed homes following the tornado. Focus for the night was just how far the community had come since rebuilding, and how much stronger its residents are from the experience.
After cleaning up from the tornado, and settling back into normal routine, the Workmans began a family. Brayden Workman is now three years old. Their story is but one of the many positive outcomes experienced in the wake of the 2007 EF3 tornado.