Newsmakers 2010: Storming back: Blank FamilyWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: Toledo Free Press will follow the Blank family of Millbury for one year as they rebuild their lives after the June 5 tornado destroyed their Main Street home.
Even though Ed Blank and his family ended their year in triumph, they know rebuilding and healing will not end in 2010.
“It took six months, 11 days and 12 hours, but we are back,” Ed said.
Ed said it feels great to return to their Millbury neighborhood in such a short amount of time, although the view from their newly built house will never be the same.
His son’s school, Lake High School on Lemoyne Road in Lake Township, was destroyed in the June 5 tornado that killed seven people, including alumna Bailey Bowman and three of the four members of the Walters family. The Walters lived next door to the Blanks.
“The Walters’ house is gone,” Ed said. “There is a picture of the four of them in the yard facing both ways. We will have to see that. That is going to be different. The view is going to be difficult.”
Ed remembers the last time he talked with them. It was the night the F-4 tornado tore through the community and destroyed and damaged dozens of structures.
Ryan and Mary Walters said they were tired and going to bed when Ed saw them come home. Ed wishes he had woken them when the sirens sounded, but he didn’t think a tornado would hit his neighborhood.
“You have feelings of guilt that you made it and your neighbors didn’t,” Ed said in June.
The night of the tornado started out as a celebration. His son, Casey, was turning 15, and they were hosting a party. Parents began to pick up their kids at about 10 p.m. Ed told those who drove to hurry home because the weather looked bad.
He told his wife, though, “Don’t worry about it honey. They never hit us.”
This time, a tornado did, and it took the Blanks’ home with it.
The tornado also hit a neighborhood in Moline, as well as the Delta area and Southeast Michigan. In Dundee, Cabela’s, the Splash Universe water park and Dundee High School were damaged.
Millbury suffered the greatest loss of life. In addition to the Walters, another victim was Ted Kranz. His daughter, Katie, the valedictorian, was scheduled to graduate at the high school June 6.
By June 8, Katie and her classmates were graduating at Owens Community College. Amid tears and cheers, Jim Witt, superintendent of Lake Local Schools, assured the audience that Lake High School would be together in some fashion by the start of school.
“By sticking together and taking care of each other, this school district and this community will be even stronger,” Witt said.
Owens would become a lifeline for Lake. The community college placed Lake students and teachers in a building on Tracy Road. Before the first day of school, a Lake High School sign was erected to welcome anxious students to the new location.
The building came with logistic problems. It had no cafeteria, so a makeshift one was created. It also had no lockers, so those were installed. The building has no gymnasium either, so athletes practice at Lake elementary and middle schools, which survived the tornado with mostly roof damage.
Casey plays basketball and his team has been practicing at the Lake Middle School and East Broadway Middle School. His games are played at the Student Health Athletic Center at Owens.
When it came to football, what was left of Lake’s football field was turned into a state-of-the-art stadium with artificial turf. It was ready in time for the first home game Sept. 3. Lake also received good news when it won $500,000 through a national contest sponsored by Kohl’s Department Store.
That money, along with Lake’s $19.1 million disaster insurance claim and a $4.8 million commitment from the Ohio School Facilities Commission, could help the district achieve its goal to rebuild the school for the 2012-13 school year. If that goal is met, Casey will start his senior year at the new school.
Ed said Casey didn’t show much emotion until they moved home Dec. 17, reinforcing the notion that rebuilding and healing takes time.
“He posted some things on Facebook that he was glad to be back and loves his new house,” Ed said.