The April 2015 tornado that devastated Fairdale and the
surrounding countryside is fresh in peoples memories, but
the most deadly EF4 twister to ever hit this area was April 21,
That storm killed 24 people, 13 of them students in 12
buses in front of Belvidere High School. The buses were loaded
with children from elementary and junior high school whom they
had picked up first.
Vi Tewksbury of Genoa found the newspapers from the day
after that tragedy and recently shared them with me. Her late
husband, Roy, was part of the G-K Rescue Squad, which responded
to the disaster. She was among the employees at Automatic Electric
in Genoa who collected canned goods and other needed items to
deliver to the Red Cross.
Other Genoa-area residents were affected by the
Vi Tewksbury of Genoa shows the headlines from local
newspapers printed after the April 21, 1967 tornado.
(Schrader photo for Shaw Media)
storm, and some worked at the Belvidere Chrysler plant,
where 300 new cars and about 100 employee vehicles were totaled.
In DeKalb, the Glidden Grade School had to be closed because
of heavy wind damage to the roof.
Looking for a first-person account, I got help from former
Genoa classmate George Quigley, who put me in touch with Dan
Potter. He was 13 years old and a sixth-grade student at Washington
Grade School at the time. Potter was in one of the 12 school
buses that were near the front of the high school at 3:50 p.m.
when it happened.
He said the bus was picked up, turned on its side, then
slammed back down to the ground. When rescue workers came to
get them out, Potter was the only one still in his seat; he was
so scared he gripped the seating so hard his hands had torn through
A police officer had to shake him loose from the seating
to get him out. His best friend was killed, Potter recalled.
Just before the tragedy, a police officer had pulled up
to the bus and warned them the funnel cloud was coming, but nothing
could be done in the seconds that followed. Dan said the bus
windows shattered and glass was strewn all over. He was lucky,
as were five of his siblings at the scene, all of whom were able
to go home that day instead of the hospital.
The survivors were rushed inside the heavily damaged school,
first to the library, then, when its ceiling started to come
down, into the cafeteria. There they stayed until the all
clear was given.
Potters father had driven to the area but could not
get through the blocked-off streets, so he walked the rest of
the way to get him and his brothers and sisters and take them
home to Garden Prairie.
Potter and others who lived through the storm still talk
about it today. He plans to go to the 50th anniversary remembrance
April 21 at the high school. A large stainless steel sculpture
of a twister stands there, with 24 names of those lost that day
engraved on it.