SURVIVOR STORY: The Tornado That Hit Us - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SURVIVOR STORY: The Tornado That Hit Us

Posted: Updated:

By Jean Denker

Brian and Mr. Mauss….. he was 82 years old, getting up on the roof…… kept showing Brian how to do several things… gave him a magnet that had been in the cow's stomach  he had never written a letter in his life… however, many months later, his daughter stopped in to see us from Pennsylvania, and told me her Father had died.  We were very sorry we had not gone to see him, .. however, she was shocked when I told her he had written us a letter asking us when we were coming.  She almost burst into tears when she told us…. That's strange, my father never wrote a letter in his life to anyone.  You should be very proud that he wrote you a letter. 

Jennie and Kathleen became friends with some of the teen-age girls who came to help wash windows, mop and other things.  They were the "back up committee" who were the last ones to come.  Jennie, Kathleen and Trini became very close to the Grieser family from Wauseon, Ohio.  After the tornado and getting us back in our house, we kept our friendship going with this family up to the present time.  They had two daughters and one son, and have visited us ever few years and we correspond with them.

Debbie, Mike, and Beth were their  children, and Bill and Marilyn were the Mother and Father. Unfortunately, their daughter Beth died a year or so ago.

We had a yard sale a few weeks before the tornado, and a young man from Africa came to see what we had.  He was very nice, and told us his wife and their family were coming to America to live here in Louisville.  The day after the tornado, we saw a young man and woman walking down our street (amid all the wreckage) and realized that it was this couple.  He came over and gave us real "bear hugs", and started crying……. He thought we were dead.  However, in talking to him, we found that he and his wife were driving down the street on Grinstead Drive when the tornado hit….. it threw their car over and over…. But they were lucky and did not get hurt.  They were so thrilled to see us.  Incidentally…. Since they had no home furnishings…we just closed up our "yard sale"and gave it all to them.

We never knew who had recommended that the Mennonites come to help us…. And to this day, we still do not know. Clark PTA (for which I was President), Relatives and many others came to assist.  We had to move around two or three times before our house was ready to come back…. But, you will never know the love that poured from so many people.

Grinstead Drive from Bayly to Birchwood – (a long block) was blocked off…..Grinstead  Drive was known for having beautiful trees along the whole street.  When the tornado went through, all of the trees fell into the street, blocking any cars to get from Stilz down almost to Lexington Road.  Consequently, the police could not get through, and therefore the police had to ride bicycles.  We did not realize that my parents  house had been hard hit also, and the roof was half off…. Right over my parents bedroom. 

My Mother had put our children in that bed, and the water was pouring in.  My Mother did not realize this at all.   

Talk about being in a state of shock. When I went down the street at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, I found a man in our basement, tearing out all of our new wiring to our house that we had just installed.  He did not know this was our house and I belonged there.  Luck was with me, at this time a policeman came up on his bicycle. The man saw him coming, and ran. 

They brought in the National Guard, and they were put right in front of our house until we came back home.  Was I ever glad!

At 4:37 p.m. the following week, … the same time that the tornado had hit before, the sirens came on for a tornado warning.  I was so frightened. My family and I ran to a friend's house a block away to take shelter.  Thank goodness it did not hit us.  However, it put fear in us for a long time. I became a "cloud watcher"; I carried my "weather alert" no matter where I went, and it took me a long time to get over this fear ... that is, if you ever do get over it.

It has really made us know how valuable friendship is….. to never take life for granted….to appreciate your family , and love them to  the greatest extent…. To help your neighbor when you can….. to say "thank you to anyone who helps you"….. and to thank God for keeping you safe and happy.  We are so proud of our family, and love them more every day.  And, to all those who assisted and helped us in any way, especially to Nelson Martin, who brought the Mennonites to us, ----we say "Thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

The day of the tornado was 4:37 p.m. on April 3, 1974. It was bright and sunny, and a beautiful day outside.  The children had their baths… Ed had celebrated his birthday the day before…and the cake was on the table waiting to celebrate another day. Needless to say, we never got to finish his cake.

When Trini decided to run to the door to look outside, - that's when she saw the clouds on the roof of the houses across the street, and said to me – I was in the kitchen preparing an early dinner…"Mommy, why are the clouds sitting on the roof across the street"….

That was the start of me getting the children to the basement…. Trini went to the second floor to get her grandparents…. We got in the store room (which was under the concrete walls of the porch)… and our day began with fear.  I called Civil Defence one day after the tornado since we were not getting newspapers, had no telephone service and were now in an apartment over off Zorn Avenue. The man told me that three tornadoes had hit our area with winds of 265 miles per hour.  Every window broken out, the porch with a 15 foot beam landed 4 doors away, trees down all over the place, roof off in some places.damage all up and down the street… our whole long block was a disaster and houses gone.

It was strange too because all of the people seemed to have disappeared.  The Baptist seminary closed down due to damage, and students going out to help and assist other people.  Did we ever expect to have this happen????? NO WAY!

When Ed heard over the Radio at Bacon's that the tornadoes were heading for the tunnel on Lexington Road, he told them at work: "that's my house!" and ran out the door to try to get home. They wanted to come with him, but he told them to stay and help the store if need be. He had to go all different ways to get to our house, and ended up getting to the top of the hill at the Baptist Seminary, and walking from there  to our house.  He could not find it, because everything was destruction, and finally got down the hill , and saw us outside.  His first words were "Don't worry, we will get it back".

Everyone has to remember that this was the first tornado in a long time, and people simply did not know what to do.  Everyone was panic stricken… we had no newspapers coming to our homes, no telephone service,  they initially had to bring  Government groups over to Bellarmine College  to take those needing assistance.  They had a big sign put on the bus…."Tornado Refugees" … we tried to hide our face, because we were so embarrassed.  We had to wait until they could open Grinstead Drive – it was so cluttered – we could not get any trucks in or out.  Ed's store, Bacon's – came in with two trucks to help us move, and talk about generous…. Mr. Marguluis – President of Bacon's – appeared on our front lawn about 7 or 8 a.m. to pack our things up and take them to Bacon's Warehouse until we would need them.   I cried when I saw him  - he told me not to worry about anything, and did we have a place to stay.  The employees and administration from Bacon's were wonderful, and kept helping us along the way.  They sent boxes with clothes, coats, for all, food, and picked up everything in our house to take it to their warehouse, until we needed to bring it back home, and to keep it safe from looters. We will never forget Mr. Margulis, and all those who helped..  The Bacon's stores are now the Dillard stores.

We had a lot of anxiety in our home. The children were afraid when storms would occur…they were glad to get back to school. They were in George Rogers Clark School, a wonderful school later to become condos when the school was closed.  The Crescent Hill Community Council was formed, and on the anniversary of the first year of the tornado, a Minister from this council came to the school, and they  planted a tree in the yard outside the Principal's office.  They tree is still there today, and blooms every Spring.

We moved to an apartment over off Zorn Ave. None of our children ever "walked in their sleep", but one night our doorbell rang (we lived on the second floor) quite late at night. I opened it, and there stood Trini. She had walked in her sleep, down to the first floor, -- our the door, and over to the pool. Luckily there was a lock on the pool entrance, and when she touched the lock, it work her up, and she ran back to our apartment.  She was about 10 years and had been dreaming. I never was so shocked in my life!  Thank goodness our children were all swimmers on a team.

I am sorry that Jennie cannot be with us today.  She travels the state of Ohio for Brown Mackey College, and we are so proud of her…. She recently received her diploma, and doctorate in Nursing, and is now Dr. Jennie Denker.  She works extremely hard and has long hours.  As a parent, we are extremely proud of our family --- three daughters, Trini, Kathleen and Jennie, and of our son, Brian Denker.

There are a lot of stories that came from going through these tornadoes…. We survived, and again we say thank you so much to everyone.

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 WDRB. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.