April, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the tornado that struck Belvidere, IL. At that time, Marengo resident Dorothy Johnson whose family owned and operated the Tastee Freez wrote this amazing memoir we are printing here:
Well, it really started out like a normal week in Marengo.
We opened the Tastee Freez on a Wednesday afternoon, April 19th, at about 2 P.M. Business was real good. It seemed quite normal, being back to work. Thursday was a pretty normal day, too, and it was sorta good seeing all the school kids again. Then came Friday and all pretense of normal was shot!
The afternoon got real hot, in fact miserable hot to work. Then it got black and just about the time for school to let out, it started raining buckets, with high winds! About 3:45 P.M., the lights and power went off. More rain and more winds, and when you are in this fish bowl, you can really see them! We worked the supper hour by candle power, selling only grille food and carbonated drinks because everyone in town with an electric stove was looking for food. When it got dark we gave up and closed up. By then we were getting rumors of tornadoes in Belvidere and north of town. So we drove to Belvidere but the State Police would not let us through. So after driving bumper to bumper on a country road, we came home and Marshall and Brad drove north of town with our landlord.
There they saw numerous farms blown away, barns where they were trying to get the cattle out of debris and a school bus which was complete mess, with the chassis and top in different places. The driver had seen the funnel coming and gotten all the children out of the bus and into a ditch. Saved every one of them. Anyone left in the bus would surely have been killed. All this was four or five miles north of our home!
But Belvidere was really hit! The whole south eastern section of the town is gone, and that included a new High School which was just opened this year. That was where so many kids were killed. 16 busses were loading to take the children home. Some they did not find until the next day. Garden Prairie sends all their Hi-Schoolers there and a number of them were also killed.
Highland Hospital had one section ruined and everyone had to be evacuated. All hospitals were loaded to the brim! Rockford and all!
24 million dollars damage! 2000 people left homeless! Over 200 homes leveled!
Thus ended a Normal Friday Night!
And on Sunday, about 2 P.M., it started snowing, and it snowed and snowed! People were standing in the snow, ordering ice cream and food. By the time we closed there was about 7 inches of snow.
After the winter we put in, with more snow than ever recorded before, and with this week behind us, do you think someone is trying to tell us something? Do you realize how eerie a community looks with no lights?
Can you imagine losing everything you own? Can you imagine not being able to find your children for hours, or even days? This was not a Normal April!