Love rebuilds a community
TINA L. SCOTT
Every person impacted by the tornado of Apr. 10, 2011, talks about the incredible help and support they received from the Merrill community.
Hard working hands
The night of the tornado, Rose Skic’s nephew Josh organized two work groups. “He called friends that had chain saws and chippers and all that equipment, and he organized a crew for the next morning, one crew to come to my house and one crew to go to Mark’s, to Taylor Insulation,” Rose Skic said.
Teresa Schreiber talked about the members of the National Guard who came in to help. “It was pretty cool, because they were in formation and they did their chant as they were walking,” Teresa said. “They came in and helped. They were all over the neighborhood.” She said it was amazing how much they accomplished. “They made sure everyone got their clean up done.”
After being off work for a couple of days, Teresa returned to her job. “I came home from work one day,” she said, “My husband, Mike, was here, and I was like, ‘Whose vehicles are in the yard?’ and Mike said, ‘Some people who stopped and said: Tell me what to do.’” It ended up being the pastor from Journey Church and Brian Hoffman and his son, Cody, Teresa said.
They literally just stopped and got out and said, “What do you need done?” Teresa said Mike was taken aback and didn’t even know how to answer them. “And they said, ‘Do you need that tree taken out of the trailer?’” [A large tree had landed on Mike’s business trailer and hadn’t been removed yet.] “So Mike said, ‘Yeah.’ And they’re like, ‘We’ll get it out of there.’ … When he came back around the house, they had it all out of there,” Teresa said. “And when I came home from work, they were still here.”
“It’s amazing,” Teresa said recently, still in awe. “The people just stopped and said, ‘Tell me what I can do.’”
The Handlins had similar experiences. The morning after the tornado, at about 5:00 a.m., Lisa’s friend and co-worker, Terri Tourtillott, called her to say, “I’m sorry if I woke you, but I’m up and I can’t sleep, and I just need to know if there is something I can do to help.”
Mike Handlin told about a group of Lutheran volunteers, along with Pastor Szeto from St. John’s, who came in with tools and helped clean yards,
Food and drink
Teresa said a whole group of people, from what was M&I Bank at that time, came through and brought food with them. “I can’t even imagine how much food they left,” she said. “They had everything in Styrofoam containers; they had hot dogs and things like that, and they brought soda and everything for anybody that was there working, and they too were like, ‘Tell us what to do.’”
“The Red Cross was so good to us and to everybody,” Lisa Handlin said. She said they came out to provide food and water to everyone there, and she is also thankful to all “the businesses in town that donated food and water so the Red Cross was able to provide meals for all the volunteers.”
“There’s another thing that I say I take away from this,” Mike said. “The support was huge. I remember the lady from the Red Cross, she came down the driveway, and she said, ‘Who’s Mike?’ And she was very stern.” Mike said he somewhat reluctantly volunteered his identity. “And she said, ‘ I heard you’re diabetic.’ I said, ‘Yes I am.’ And she said, ‘Come with me.’ And she took me back out to the truck, and she said, ‘Sit down there, please.’ And I sat down on the back bumper, and she said, ‘Now I’m going to watch you eat this sandwich. And then I have some stuff for you.’ And she had some blood testing equipment and stuff for me that she gave me. But she wanted to make sure I ate. She said, ‘Cause I heard that you’re not the kind to take care of yourself, that you’ll worry about everything else and not take care of yourself, so I’m going to make sure that you eat every day when I get out here.’ I thought that was pretty awesome,” Mike adds.
Even the insurance adjusters were helpful. “We had Church Mutual,” Mike said. “They were super.” They made sure the Handlins had an advance on their total coverage so they could go out and buy clothes, necessities, food, and whatever they needed in the short term, without a long delay.”
Community tornado disaster relief funds
The tornado disaster relief fund the Chamber of Commerce managed was a huge help to many people, as well. “It was amazing the people that contributed to it and how much was contributed,” Teresa Schreiber said. In various stages, funds were made available to assist homeowners with deductibles on their insurance coverages, cleanup efforts, stump grinding, and other expenses directly related to the tornado.
“We had three totaled cars, so that’s three deductibles, and we had the house, which we had the deductible,” she said. The tornado fund covered their deductibles and took a huge burden from their shoulders.
Area businesses give selflessly
When Nuggs was found safe, Mike Handlin immediately took him to the vet to have him checked over. Dr. Randy Zelant from the Merrill Veterinary Clinic gave him a clean bill of health, and when Mike asked about the bill at the front desk, they waved him off.
When Mike took his chainsaws to Dave Nelson at Nelson’s Powerhouse to get them sharpened to begin the cleanup, a neighbor delivered them right to Mike, sharpened and ready to go, with the message that there was no charge, per Dave.
Wally Smith of Miller Furniture offered warehouse space to the Handlins so they could have a staging area to go through the belongings pulled from the rubble of their home and then to store those items they decided to keep.
One business helps another
With the Taylor Insulation building destroyed, Mark Skic was faced with the next question: “How do we continue to stay in business when we have about 25 employees?”
That’s when the Merrill community really stepped in to help, Mark said.
“It didn’t take long for the calls to start coming in to me for people offering to help. We received a huge break when my sister-in-law, Michelle, who worked at River Valley Bank, contacted the owners, and they agreed to set us up in the basement of the bank,” Mark said. “I was quite amazed that they offered to do that, and we took them up on their offer. They set us up in the basement of their bank and helped with all the technical support of setting up our computers, phones, everything that we needed. We were very, very fortunate that they helped in that way, because we never could’ve done it without them.”
“Many others in the community helped with cleanup and helping us transfer to a temporary location,” he added. “We operated out of River Valley Bank’s basement for approximately four months.”
“We never did move back to our existing location,” Mark said. “The building was totaled, and it would take too long to rebuild.” They needed to be up and running and fully operational in far less time than rebuilding would take, he said. “The technical college bought the property, and it is nice to see how they have developed it into a very nice facility.”
“We moved into an existing building that had been sitting empty, and it had been recently purchased by Pioneer Trucking. We rented for nine months before we purchased the building and property and moved in.” Taylor Insulation Company is now located at W4648 Cty. Rd. G in Merrill, across from Church Mutual Insurance Company.
“We were very fortunate to have good insurance that covered most of the losses that we had,” Mark said. “We did suffer some financial loss and a lot of unpaid time for moving and getting readjusted into our new building. It took an approximate two years from the date of the tornado until we were 100% set up in our new building.”
“It took a while, but our business has fully recovered and we are doing good,” Mark said.
Gifts of love
The Handlin boys’ classes at Trinity Lutheran School got together and made quilts for the boys and then surprised them with the quilts when they were finished, and they had messages for the boys on the quilts, Lisa Handlin said.
“Our community, and not even just our community, but people from everywhere,” have been so supportive, Mike said. Their friends and co-workers came to help, some even taking the day off of work to help. Both he and Lisa’s families provided them with lots of support, as well. “We got packages and cards and checks, and two of my cousins who are deputies with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, they passed the hat there and sent a check, and my cousins had boys, and they sent video games and toys and I mean big boxes of toys for the boys. It was overwhelming. It really was.”
“That’s what’s pretty special about our community,” Mike said. “The help that came, the people that helped us. That we didn’t know. People from all over that came on that volunteer Saturday. One of my favorite stories is of a husband and wife who came with their daughter, and her boyfriend.” Mike said he doesn’t remember exactly where they were from, but somewhere in the southern part of the state that had been hit by a tornado, and they had also lost their home to a tornado. They said they knew that they had to come up here and help somebody because of all the people that had come to help them.
The couple introduced themselves and told their story, and then their high-school-age daughter came in with her boyfriend and the mom did the introductions. The daughter gave Mike a big hug. She said, “You must have boys.” Mike indicated he did and asked why. “And she said, ‘Well, here.’ And she reaches into her pockets and she pulls out some Legos and a Hot Wheels car and told him, ‘I know from being in a tornado myself the little things that mean the most to you, and here’s something that maybe your kids will keep as a memento that they are safe and stuff.’”
“She had found it out in the yard and just thought that it would be something for them to have, and that just – you know, for somebody who had gone through the same thing and understood how important something little like that might be, that was pretty important to us,” Mike said.
Much to be thankful for
“I remember driving into work every day and seeing all the devastation that had hit in the Merrill area. I especially felt sorry for all those who had their homes damaged or destroyed,” Mark said. “I was always moved by the amount of volunteers everywhere helping clean up or offering a helping hand. For all the damage done, we are so fortunate that there was no serious injuries or death. There are usually many deaths related to this type of tornado.”
“Buildings and structures can be rebuilt, but the effect on personal belongings is a different matter,” he added. “I couldn’t imagine losing my home. I am very proud of our community, how we bounced back. I love living in our small town where people really help each other.”
“And I thank God every day that we were spared any human casualties,” Mark said.
Compassion, humanity on display … people just care
Another memory that stands out and makes Mike appreciate his community is how compassionate people were, and how they let their guards down. “Jeff Jaeger, who was the Sheriff at that time – and I’ve know Jeff a long time – he came on that Monday. Jeff got out of his truck at our mailbox and asked me how I was doing, and he started to give me a hug and then he started to cry, and I’m thinking, here’s the Sheriff of our County, embracing me and crying. And that just totally blew me away.”
It can be humbling to accept help. Humbling to have something so big happen to you that you cannot handle it on your own. Humbling and scary to feel things are out of your control. Compassion and humanity on display remind people that it’s OK. To let your guard down. To accept help. To be human.