An emotional anniversary

TRACY – It was a clear summer evening, with the sound of kids playing and the Tracy Community Band tuning up in Central Park. Speakers Thursday night said it made almost an eerie contrast to events in the same town 45 years ago.

Back then, Homer Dobson said, “Many of you living here in Tracy experienced a roar.” The roaring noise was followed by ferocious winds, blowing debris and destruction. Then, “In just a few moments, the sky was as clear is it is tonight.”

But the scene left behind was heartbreaking, Dobson said.

An F-5 tornado – the first ever recorded in Minnesota – struck the city of Tracy at about 7:03 p.m. on June 13, 1968. The storm claimed the lives of nine people, destroyed and damaged homes, and forever changed the people who survived. Tracy residents commemorated the tornado’s anniversary with several events on Thursday, including a short program before the Tracy Community Band concert.

Scott Thoma, a Tracy native and author of a recent book on the Tracy tornado, began the program by remembering those killed by the tornado. A chime was sounded as Thoma read the names of each of the tornado’s victims: Ella Haney, Mildred Harden, Barbara Holbrook, Ellen Morgan, Fred Pilatus, Paul Swanson, Walter Swanson, Otelia Werner and Nancy Vlahos.

In an invocation, Dobson recalled the terrible events of the storm, and the loss they caused. But he also gave thanks for memories of loved ones, Tracy’s strength in rebuilding, and the generosity of area people in helping Tracy residents.

“Beneath it all was the resolve that we would rebuild,” he said.

There were several events commemorating the tornado throughout the day. At a potluck at the Tracy fire hall, local residents gathered to watch a KSTP news report, which featured the network’s original footage of the tornado aftermath. At a speaking event with Thoma at the Tracy Library, audience members shared their own memories.

Tracy resident John Glaser said he remembered watching the tornado as a teenager, along with other members of his baseball team, who were riding the bus back from a canceled game in Cottonwood.

“One of the guys says, ‘look, there’s a tornado,'” Glaser said. The bus driver stopped about five miles out from town until the storm had passed. Glaser said he also remembered joining the cleanup efforts in the days after the tornado and seeing the National Guard in Tracy.

The anniversary is one that brings up a lot of emotion, Glaser said.

“I’m sure a lot of people are going to be thinking about 45 years ago, where they were and what they were doing,” he said. “You can’t help it.”

Organizers said one of the goals behind Thursday’s events was to continue raising funds for a stone memorial for the storm and its nine victims. It was a project Thoma said he wholeheartedly supported.

“I really have a passion for remembering the nine people who died,” he said.

The monument will stand near U.S. Highway 14 in Tracy and replace a set of missing and badly deteriorated plaques for the tornado victims. So far, community members have raised more than $12,000 of the $14,500 needed to purchase the monument before a planned dedication ceremony on Labor Day.