‘It’s a long time coming’

TRACY – A good-sized crowd gathered at the site of the new Tracy Tornado memorial Monday morning to remember the nine victims of the June 13, 1968 tornado.

A dedication of the new monument was part of Tracy’s annual Box Car Days.

A little more than 45 years ago, the tornado took the life of Nancy Vlahos, Barbara Holbrook, Walter Swanson, Ella Haney, Mildred Harnden, Ellen Morgan, Fred Pilatus, Paul Swanson and Otelia Werner.

“This (monument) is for them,” said Scott Thoma, a Tracy native and author of “Out of the Blue,” a book about the tornado.

Several of the victims’ family members were on hand at Monday’s dedication.

“I think it’s really great,” said Cheryl Rae Lange of Lindstrom. Her grandmother was Ellen Morgan. “It’s great that they’ve done this.”

Lange and her brother, Larry Morgan of Blaine, were at Monday’s dedication. She said her grandmother’s house was fine. But her grandmother had gone to visit a woman and that house was destroyed. Lange said that her father and his two brothers lived in Tracy and that her grandmother worked in the school system in the kitchen.

About a dozen or so members of Ella Haney’s descendants were at the ceremony, wearing nametags that beared her name and photo.

“This is really nice, it looks like a lot of preparation went into this,” said Dave Haney of Marshall, one of Ella’s grandchildren.

Ella’s great-granddaughter Joyce St. Pierre of Tracy remembers the tornado.

“I was 16 when it happened,” she said. She said she’s still scared of storms.

Thoma was one of the speakers at the unveiling.

“This is something we needed for many years, it’s a long time coming,” Thoma said. “Through a lengthy and sometimes grueling fundraising process, we had it come to fruition.”

The Tracy Headlight Herald newspaper donated a storyboard for the monument, Thoma said. The committee is still looking for donations for upgrades, such as lighting, he added.

Thoma said he’s already heard a few criticisms about the monument, which includes its height. Originally, it was going to be six feet tall. Instead, it’s 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

“It’s 68 inches, (which is) the year the tornado struck Tracy,” he said.

Homer Dobson, Bernie Holm, Tracy Mayor Tony Peterson and Eric Lantz pulled away the tarp covering the new monument. A swell of applause rose in the air as the monument was revealed.

Dobson led the crowd in a prayer as he recalled that June day remembering how people would sit around the living room or spend time with the nine victims.

“And now those tables are gone, those times are gone,” he said. “This was the purpose of a memorial, memories.”

As he thought about the nine’s lives, Dobson said there’s a lot of precious memories. He remembered the town’s doctor taking him to a room where the victims were and a small bundle was on the floor.

“He handed the tiny one to me and said ‘Homer, would you hold this tiny one in your arms?'” Dobson said. “He wanted someone to hold that tiny form in arms of love.”

Sue Ann Moyars, who helped design the monument, said the goal was to tell the wonderful story of the nine people.

After the ceremony was over, Larry Morgan went over to thank Moyars for her work.

“You did a wonderful job,” Morgan told Moyars.