Barneveld, WI Tornado, Jun 1984 - Funerals


By Charles E. Friedrich
of the Journal Staff

Mount Horeb, Wis. - The quiet of the Evangelical Lutheran Church here this sunny Monday contrasted with the chaos of the night, three days before.

The relatives, friends and neighbors of Robert Arneson gathered Monday to say "Goodby."

The scene was repeated here and in churches elsewhere, as those killed in Friday's Barneveld tornado were laid to rest.

"At this point in our lives, it is difficult to think of our God as a God of love," the Rev. Robert Twiton told the congregation of more than 200.

"But the fact remains that God is still God and we are his children. This God weeps right along with us today," Twiton said.

Arneson, 52, a farmer, had lived on the edge of Barneveld. He was the first of those killed in the tornado to be buried.

The service was held in the neighboring village of Mount Horeb, because the Lutheran church in Barneveld was destroyed.

In the same church Monday evening, a memorial service was held for another of the tornado victims, Harold Kirk Holland, 40.

Eight miles away, Bareneveld struggled to its feet Monday.

Three days after the tornado roared up its main street, the village was open for business.

Not normal business. Nothing can be normal for a long time in a town where 200 mph winds flattened most buildings, left nine dead and hundreds homeless.

But the post office was delivering mail Monday, the bank was cashing checks and the townspeople were talking about the future.

"These people have guts. They've got guts they haven't even used yet," said Village President Stephen Eveland.

In the distance, a cloud of dust swirled as bulldozers continued to push debris into piles, to be hauled away by dump trucks.

State and local law-enforcement officers and National Guard personnel, on had since early Friday morning, were talking of relaxing security. "We may reopen things Thursday," said Michael Spencer, deputy director of emergency police services for the State Division of Emergency Government. That means that officers no longer will maintain checkpoints on roads entering the village, restricting access.

Instead, signs will be posted warning those without business in the community to stay away. "We're trying to phase it down,' Spencer said.

Policing by the National Guard was to be relaxed Tuesday. Guard personnel had been stationed to prevent a problem that was feared but never occurred: looting. As a result, the Guard patrol of 36 will be cut in half, with officers on duty only at night.

Telephone service was being restored in the Barneveld area Monday. Electricity was on in the buildings still standing. Water was available, although residents were told not to drink from the village water system without boiling the water until laboratory tests confirmed that the supply was not contaminated.

Most of the business buildings along Barneveld's main street were destroyed by the tornado.

But Monday, the bank re-opened in a mobile trailer office hauled in from Rockford, Ill. And it had customers as residents came to deposit insurance checks.

"This is our grand opening," said Theodore Arneson, president of the Barneveld State Bank. "We're open for full service."

The rules for financial protocol were bent to accommodate emergency conditions. A bank customer asked whether it really was necessary to sign a withdrawal signature card, since her arm was in a sling - an injury suffered in the tornado. "We don't need your signature,' Arneson replied.

The rules were bent, too, at the Barneveld Post Office, which was relocated to the garage of the postmistress, Marie Dimpfl.

"We're making a bulletin board," said postal clerk Mary Ann Myers. Forget the postal regulation that says no unoffical signs can be posted. Notes announcing emergency meetings and other information for the residents were taped to the post office's front counter.

Down at the Town of Brigham garage, one of the few buildings not seriously damaged, another bulletin board testified to the good-neighbor spirit of those helping the tornado victims.

The garage is now the Red Cross relief headquarters. Taped to the Red Cross van were messages offering help:
"Will baby sit at any time...."
"Have nearly new twin bed...."
Washer and dryer. Can deliver...."

But the law enforcement command center in the heart of town, the reality of loss of home and posessions was sinking in.

Officials circulated forms among the victims, authorizing crews to bulldoze away the remains of shattered homes and absolving agencies of government from liability. In the first hour, six of the forms were turned in.

For some, it was a lifetime - gone with the signing of a scrap of paper.

But there's no choice, said one of the victims, Robert Weck.

He stood by the flattened wreckage of what had been his home for the last 12 years.

"I'm tired of looking at it," he said. "You've got to start over, someplace."

The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI 11 Jun 1984