personal topeka tornado stories
 

 

On this special website, you can read stories of the ’66 Topeka Tornado and tell stories of your own. Use the email link at the right side to send in your story and enjoy reading the tales of others posted here.

Bob Anderson was tending bar at the Seabrook Tavern when the tornado hit. “I could hear the sirens in the distance…I grabbed the cash box and locked up the bar. After about thirty minutes, I returned and unlocked the tavern. It was then that I discovered that we had inadvertently locked one of the patrons in the bar during the whole crisis. The guy didn’t talk to me for months after that, but we noticed he had put a good dent in the Budweiser during his ordeal.” 

-- Bob Anderson

“I graduated from Washburn University on June 5, 1966, and was waiting for Washburn Law School classes to start in a few days. My wife Donna LaMar Bender, and I lived at 1710 Washburn right across from the campus.  I was watching TV and became aware of the storm approaching Manhattan and progressing toward Topeka.  Of particular note just before the storm hit was the fact that all traffic stopped and all the birds quit flying and it became very still and the we heard what sounded like a freight train approaching.  Our duplex had a basement which was shared with Jerry and Janet McElroy and we gathered there together as the storm approached. As the tornado went by our home it opened and closed a basement window and sucked the dryer vent out the window and of course we heard all kinds of noise outside.  I ventured out after I though it was safe and I soon found it otherwise as I saw a house on the north side of 17th street which had been turned completely over rock to one side and then fall and the various items came falling out of the sky.  I quickly returned to the basement.

A woman who I did not know approached and advised that there was a Senior Recital that was being held at McVicar Chapel and that there were lots of people trapped. Our phone was dead as was the one next door and I advised I couldn't call anyone.  I went over to McVicar and found that in the confusion those that had been in the recital had gone to the southeast corner room in the basement instead of what had been known as the safe spot the southwest corner. They were lucky because the building fell into the southwest corner. Kansas University did a study after the storm and concluded the standard advice was not the best.

After finding those at McVicar were O.K. I went to the northwest corner of 17th and Washburn and helped dig Bertha Whitney out of the rubble of her home. She was on the way to the basement when the tornado hit.  We put her on a door and carried her to a station wagon and I rode with her and the physician whose vehicle it was. We went a long way east before we could get through and eventually she was delivered to St. Francis.  There were injured everywhere and long lines of the injured awaiting medical care. Mrs. Whitney was put in a small room with another patient and I talked with her and she said to me I should go be with my family. I left and spent the night working with the American Red Cross.  I was shocked to read in the morning paper that Mrs. Whitney had died. 

The next morning I collected items from the law school that had ended up in my yard including final examinations, graded and ungraded and legal memorabilia belonging to Professor Fowks. 

My cat Phouska wandered outside sometime during the excitement but returned without a voice.  He would open his mouth but no meows were forthcoming from then on. We don't know what happened. Did the wind damage his vocal cords or did he step on an electrical line? We have no idea.

I did spend my entire law school career in the temporary trailers which were erected on the Washburn University campus. I was able to see the new law school built but never had a class there.”

– Jack Bender III

“The tornado sirens went off. The sky was a sickening greenish color and it felt like something was wrong. I went in the old barrack apartment where we lived and turned on the TV. Bill Kurtis stepped in front of the weatherman who was giving his regular report. Bill calmly explained a large tornado was on the ground and headed our way.

I gathered my wife and our child in the only new car we ever owned, and drove to Stoffer Science Hall on the Washburn campus, our assigned place of shelter. We laid on the basement floor along with Helen Kurtis and her baby and about 200 other people. When the tornado hit the building, sand from the cigarette ash can blew all over us, and Helen and her baby were sucked up against the elevator door.

When the storm was over and we hadn’t died, I supposed it was really no big deal after all. As we started up the stairs, I was struck by the shape of the steel doors at the bottom of the stairs. They were bent outward at the bottom by the force of the vacuum. The security guard held the handles during the storm keeping the doors closed – protecting us. When we got outside, the scene was such that my mind couldn’t completely wrap around it. The old rock building just to the west, built before the era of structural steel, with rock walls at the bottom five feet thick or more…its three stories had been reduced to little more than one.

As we looked around at the electric lines sparking in the water and wondering where we’d stay that night I spotted our new car roughly at the bottom of a pile of 50 or so cars that had been parked in the parking lot. The day before, I’d have been real upset about a scratched fender. Today, happy we were alive and watching bloody people crawling out of the crumbled building, it didn’t seem to matter anymore.”

– Hon. D. Keith Anderson


"I moved to Topeka on June 1, 1966. I was sixteen. My mother and I were visiting friends in a central neigborhood near the capitol when the tornado struck. We heard it coming and there was no doubt what it was although it was my first and only tornado. We just got a wheelchair-bound person down the basement steps when it was upon us. A south facing basement window, hinged at the top, flipped up and debris flew in with great violence. I tried to push the window down. I barely moved it against the awesome pressure. As I looked out, just above ground level I saw large pieces of roof with joists attached and large tree limbs going by horizontally, not falling at all. The tornado's sound and fury had a ferocity I had never imagined. After it passed we checked on neigbors amid the destruction. A house across the street must have been in the eye. It was a big square two and a half story house and still intact. But it had been rotated 45 degrees off its foundation and moved about ten feet toward the northeast. What had been the southwest corner of the house pointed west and sagged into the basement, leaving the southwest and northwest corners of the basement exposed. We found the couple who lived there trapped in a little framed bathroom in the northeast corner of the basement. The man's arm was wedged between studs in the corner of the wall. I imagine when he saw the whole house move above him, he grabbed the wall through the spreading studs and held on for dear life. We spread the studs to free his arm. Both were uninjured. I heard that an automobile was found on the roof of the six story Columbian office building. A few weeks later I went up to the observation deck of the State Office Building which had been in the storm's path. Looking southwest and northeast, it seemed as though a giant had gone through the city with a lawnmower. Fortunately, our house, located two blocks north of Washburn's campus, was undamaged. I started college at Washburn two years later and attended many classes in the trailers. "

--Mark Rockwell


"I went to Topeka West High School. At the time of the tornado, June 8, 1966, I was sixteen and enjoying the privilege of driving around Topeka.

That evening I had driven downtown to a meeting after supper. The Masonic Building was just south of the capitol building along 10th St. (where the Kansas Judicial Center stands now). I was in a girl’s version of a Masonic organization and we were practicing choral music. We were to leave the next day for state convention, and were to compete in a choral competition.

The sky that evening was unforgettable. I've never seen weather like it before or since. The sky churned green and yellow, and then the air was deathly still. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that a serious storm was developing. The adults were listening to a portable radio. When they heard that a tornado had touched down near Burnett's Mound and was headed our way, they herded us into the temple's basement.

The storm hit the Masonic building, but it was well built. We heard the roar of the storm and heard glass imploding, but I never felt the uncomfortable feeling that air was being sucked out of my body--something I heard from those who experienced the storm in less-sturdy structures.

After it had been quiet for several minutes we came up and surveyed the damage. The windows were all blown out, but the structure was undamaged. Some cars outside were severely damaged by downed tree limbs, but my car could still be driven. First I tried to call home to say I was okay, but the phone line was busy, so I just headed toward home.

I lived at the dead end of Randolph near KNI, at 2534, near where the TARC building stands now. Our house was destroyed--but I wouldn’t know it until I got home.

I took a girl friend with me. We'd heard on the radio that her area of the city, near 29th and Gage, was hard-hit by the storm. She was frantic to get home and had no transportation, so I told her I'd drive her. I drove west on 10th St. and south on College Blvd— right up to the entrance of Washburn University's campus at 17th and College. There I had to stop. I could not go straight, nor right, nor left, because downed tree limbs blocked all three directions. No one was out yet to direct traffic. The storm was just over.

My friend and I stared at rubble where there had been large, old buildings. There were strange, gapping spaces where there had been dense trees. Everything was leveled. Trees left standing were stark and twisted. Buildings, especially MacVicar Chapel and Thomas Gym, which I could see from the intersection, were just piles of stone. Carnegie Hall looked badly damaged.

Seeing Washburn's destruction was a shock to us. We realized this storm had been worse than we'd imagined. There was nobody else in sight. It was very quiet and still daylight, because June 8th is near the longest day of the year.

My adrenaline began to pump. I had to get home! I backed down College Blvd. and then turned west on 16th St. to head southwest toward home.

People were attempting to secure the area. They stopped us at 21st and Randolph. They said we'd have to leave my car and walk if we wanted to go further south. I found my neighborhood friend, Patti, among those people milling at the intersection.

I asked her, "How is your house?"

She said, "What house?" It's gone." My stomach sank.

I parked my car and my other friend and I got out to walk. We were warned to be careful walking because power lines were down. As we walked the blocks toward my home we were nervous we'd step on a power line or a line would fall on us and we'd be electrocuted.

As I neared home I was frantic to find my parents. I couldn't recognize my house! I remember having to count houses from the corner to figure which one was ours. Everything was covered in mud, and there wasn’t enough detail left to recognize anything. There were no people out anywhere.

The house that had stood two doors north of ours was simply a hole in the ground. The house next door south was gone from the floorboards up. The trees were broken and leafless, all the grass was pulled out by the roots. Our house had no roof, no south side, no east side--just naked, mud-caked interior walls and a front façade. Most rooms were open to sky. Our freestanding garage had buckled and collapsed over the car parked inside it.

My parents had taken refuge in the crawl space under the house (none of the homes in the area had basements). After the storm my dad had helped Mother out of the crawlspace. He'd told her to stay put by the corner of the garage and not move. Then, since he couldn't drive the car, he jogged toward downtown on foot--along the direct path of the storm--to find me. He'd heard on his portable radio that the tornado had hit the 10th and Kansas area near the Masonic Temple and, with Mother safe, I became his priority.

My mother saw my friend and me standing in the road and called to us. She warned us not to come nearer because of the possibility of downed power lines. Hearing her voice helped me spot her. She was the first person I'd seen in the area. She shouted that Dad had gone downtown on foot in search of me.

My friend was very, very anxious to get home. We decided to walk back down Randolph St. to the car and I would try to drive her home. Light was fading rapidly.

At the intersection of 21st and Randolph we finally connected with Dad. He had arrived at the Masonic Temple, heard I'd left, and adults there had offered to drive him back to Randolph St. He was on foot, still winded from his jog downtown, when we met.

He was very, very happy to see me safe and greeted me with a big hug. If I ever doubted he loves me (and I haven't) I knew through his actions that night that he loved me dearly.

He agreed to drive my friend home in the car I’d parked near 21st and Randolph. When we arrived we found her home had little damage. It was west of the severe damage done at 29th and Gage.

It was dark by the time Dad and I headed back toward Randolph. I asked, "What are we going to do?"

He answered, "I don't know."

I'd always relied on him for answers to problems. It was memorable that he had no plans at all in this situation.

That is when our relatives stepped in to help. By the time we got back to 21st and Randolph, Dad's many brothers and nephews, most of whom lived north of the Kansas River, had started arriving unsolicited to help us.

Mama had been retrieved from her perch near the collapsed garage. A relative drove her and me to my grandparents’ home in North Topeka to sleep. Dad and his brothers worked through the night to salvage what they could of our possessions.

The next day’s newspaper carried photos of the carnage. A neighbor, John Scheibe, was dead. He had just graduated from high school a day or two before the storm. We later heard from his family that he'd been asleep alone at home. Apparently the storm did not waken him. He was found "wrapped around a tree" in his front yard. He had a severe head injury. He was taken to the hospital, but never regained consciousness and died within a few hours. His mother's hair literally turned white overnight.

The newspaper said that the Washburn campus was particularly hard-hit, but I knew that first-hand.

The devastation was widespread. The tornado had been solidly on the ground from the time it rushed around Burnett's Mound at the southwest corner of our city of 125,000 until it dissipated northeast of the city. In places the path of total devastation was two blocks wide. Ancillary damaged spread for 5 or 6 blocks on either side of the destruction line--a swath a mile wide through town from one end to the other, with millions of dollars in damage to property and 16 deaths.

Of course, we watched TV at Grandma’s and read everything we could about events in the next few days. I still have a copy of a special supplement that was printed by the Topeka Daily Capital. Amazing personal stories floated concerning details of the storm and its damage.

The National Guard was mobilized immediately. They monitored neighborhoods in an attempt to discourage looting. Of course, there was lots of looting anyway. Also, the guarding made it harder for people with legitimate reasons to go into damaged neighborhoods and do what needed to be done.

For days the Red Cross passed out sandwiches and coffee to cleanup workers. The Mennonites came from the Hutchinson area and worked hard to help with cleanup.

Dad's large family all pitched in to help us. Anything salvageable was taken to my Uncle Chris' house. The women did loads of laundry and tried to clean household items, removing the mud that caked them. Cleaning furniture uncovered horrible scars in the wood. Much of what we had owned was simply gone. We gratefully accepted used clothing and basic personal items from tables set up at University United Methodist Church, 17th and College.

Several days after the storm I stood talking with a next door neighbor when something in the mud caught my eye. I fished it out, and immediately recognized my mother's wedding ring. She had not been wearing it at the time of the storm. Rather, it was on her dressing table in her bedroom, a room hard hit in the storm. The ring had been presumed lost. (Unfortunately, I did not find her engagement ring.)

Such ironic storm stories were bountiful.

The media tried to discourage sightseeing. They got in the way of cleanup. Many people had come from out of town. No doubt many were concerned about Topeka friends and relatives and had come to check on them. Power and telephone services were out in storm areas for quite some time. Thoughtful persons stayed out of the way of cleanup, or pitched in to help.

A church member offered a home to us. Her father was out of the state visiting relatives and we stayed in his home for a week. We appreciated the kindness. Then Dad found a house we could rent for the summer. By the time school started in the fall he'd bought another house, on 12th Street and still within Topeka West High School’s boundaries, and we started over.

For a long time I had bad dreams about storms and losing people and things I loved most, but, after 37 years, those dreams no longer plague me.

What I remember now about the aftermath of the tornado: how wonderful, helpful and supportive people were after the storm. The community pulled together. Places were rebuilt. Trees were planted. We survived."

-- Carol Yoho



"We lived north of town, by the Goodyear Plant, in 1966. We had no basement, but went across the street to the neighbors. We weren't in any immediate danger, so we stood outside and could see the tornado making its path across Topeka. My father was working construction in Kansas City. He and four of his fellow workers were eating their supper at a restaurant, when the waitress told them that Topeka had been hit by a large tornado. She said, "It must have been bad, because they said the Huntington Apartments were leveled!" One of the guys lived within a few blocks of those apartments. All four of these men jumped in a pick-up truck and started driving home. Of the four, my father was the only man who had a house left. When they got to Topeka, they somehow managed to get down into town, but they could not tell where they were. One of the guys jumped out of the truck, because he thought they were close to his house around 15th and Topeka Blvd. My dad said he just took off running through all of the rubble. They went on and got up on the I-70 bypass under Burnett's Mound. But by then the police were not letting anyone though. My dad and his friends, just pulled the pickup truck to the side of the highway, jumped out and ran down the embankment to try and get to the one's home. My dad said later, that they didn't even consider the "downed" power lines and dangerous debris everywhere. When they finally found the street the man lived on (after several times of being lost), his house was totally gone. The only thing left was the three small walls surrounding the basement door. All of the houses on his side of the street were leveled, but all of the houses on the opposite side of the street were still standing. His family survived, and were waiting with others at a close by elementary school. Weeks later, the roof of their house was found over in the Oakland area."

-- Marta Barnett



"In 1966 I was about 7 years old. My family and I had just gotten home from a trip to Topeka. My folks turned on the radio and the reaction that my folks had about hearing about Topeka's tornado is just something that stayed in my mind over the years.

Everywhere we had been was hit by it. I also remember later visits throughout the years and into middle schools when we made trips and would go up to observatory area over in the state building and you could look out and still see the path it took. There were no trees in the path area."

-- Donna Drummond


"As Topeka's Mayor when the tornado hit, I was also on the Board of Regents. Three months before the tornado, the Board reinsured every building on the Washburn campus for the maximum, so when the tornado swept away some of the buildings, Washburn had a nice insurance check. I worked closely with President Henderson to restore the campus and to secure mobile classrooms from the Federal government. After the mobile classrooms were on site, I went to Washington. Dr. Henderson asked me to see if we could get air conditioning units in the mobile classrooms, so I met with former Florida Governor Ferris Bryant, head of the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP, today called FEMA). I thanked him for all the help his office had given and said that I had only one request. He said, "What's that Mr. Mayor." I said, "Sir, we need air conditioning units for the classrooms." Then he said, "Well, Mr. Mayor, you will just have to park them under the trees," to which I replied, "Sir we had a tornado and don't have any trees!" So we got the air conditioning units.

Following the tornado, Topeka was besieged by fly-by-night repair people, so to protect our city from their unscrupulous deals, I initiated the Better Business Bureau of NE Kansas. I called Joe Burkhead, head of the BBB in KC, Mo. and told him of our need. He was in my office within an hour and thus the NE BBB was started, and I am proud it has prospered yet today.

When the tornado hit I was at a Kiwanis meeting in Tecumseh. At about 6:50 p.m. we got a call that a tornado had struck at 29th and Gage, so I immediately got in my city car and headed for the sub-basement of the Courthouse. When I arrived, Civil Defense Coordinator Bob Jones was waiting for me. He wanted to know how we were going to stop any looting, so I put out the word on the radio that anyone suspected of looting would be shot on sight. Then he wanted to know how we could keep sightseers out of the tornado areas. So I ordered that only persons with a drivers license with an address in the tornado areas would be permitted to enter. Later that evening, Police Chief Dana Hummer and I got in his unmarked car and drove south on Gage. When we got to 25th Street, there was a soldier from Forbes with his rifle at the ready. The Chief introduced himself and me and said, we wanted to enter. The soldier asked for our licenses, which we didn't have, so we didn't get in. Then we noticed lights were on at the Maude Bishop school. Stopping to investigate, we saw the electricity was from a portable generator from Bern, Kansas, a little town north of Topeka. Kansas City, MO sent all of their Park Dept., equipment, men, etc. to help in cleanup and they stayed in Topeka for a month. We housed them in the Topeka High School gym. The Mennonites from Newton also did a fine job in the cleanup, bringing with them equipment, their people and their own tents. Topeka and Washburn owe a great deal to our neighbors for their wonderful help after the tornado.

I asked the Ks. Air Natl. Guard for a Helicopter at 6 a.m. the next morning. As we flew over our damaged city, I was struck by the tremendous damage. It looked like someone with a six-block wide lawnmower had gone right through the city. The sight was so awesome that I am not ashamed to say it, I cried.

Back in the early 1950's the City had adopted a Master Traffic Plan, which showed a trafficway from 29th & Gage up through Billard Airport, to connect with U.S. 24. Since the tornado either paralleled or coincided with its destruction, I thought it would be well for the City to right away buy all the vacant property, but we didn't have seven million dollars to do so. I went to Washington and Sen. Frank Carlson took me before the Senate's Ways and Means committee. Sen. Proxmire from Wisconsin was its chairman. When I showed them the map and the route of the tornado, I said we didn't have time to float a bond issue for the 7 million, so we wanted a loan of the money. He leaned over his desk and said, "Mr. Mayor, the Federal government isn't in the loan business," so we didn't get the money and the trafficway still hasn't been built, and probably will never be built. I personally believe Topeka missed a golden opportunity, presented by the tornado, to carry out its Master Traffic Plan."

--Charles Wright, Former Topeka Mayor


"I was just three years old but can vividly recall my mother hustling us up the street to a neighbors shelter. We lived within a mile of Washburn and the noise from the storm was very intense. What stuck in my mind was the parents had began to sing "Home on the Range" to drown out the storms noise and to calm the children. My father was in the Dakotas working and told me that when he watched the national news and saw the devastation he was very concerned because we lived so close to the path of the storm. He drove home immediatly as the phones were down for weeks."

-- John Fitzpatrick



"I was 16 years old in 1966. As sirens blew, my parents and I took cover in our Potwin area basement. I was talking on the phone to a friend who lived in the Oakland area. He had helped his mother move residents that she cared for, into their basement. There was one man that could not be moved, so they placed a mattress over him and moved his bed against an inner main floor wall. We resumed talking on the phone, and he joked that he did not need to go to the basement. After several minutes, his voice became concerned as he indicated that the neighbor's roof just flew by. I then heard loud noises and the phone went dead. Assuming he was still joking with me, I was not really concerned that the tornado might have struck his home. As the evening progressed, we listened to the news reports and realized just how much damage had been done to the city. A knock came on our door. There stood my friend, covered in mud and exhausted. He had ridden a bicycle with two flat tires from his house to mine, to see if I was all right. He said that as the phone had gone dead, the basement door followed him down the steps into his basement. The tornado ripped his house from its foundation, leaving nothing standing except the invalid man on his bed with the mattress, and the interior wall. We tried to drive to the Oakland area to take my friend back to his family. Streets were nearly impassible and security personnel were discouraging travel. I will never forget that evening, the distructive force of a tornado, or the courage and compassion of my friend. "

-- Diane (Hart) Albert



"My cousin and I were living at the Huntington Apts. at about 30th and Gage. She worked at a beauty salon just behind the apt. complex. I was home at the time when it started pouring rain. I was worried, and looked out the south windows and saw what appeared to be a huge black curtain in the sky, hanging over Burnett's Mountain. As I looked at it, I could see that the sides seemed to be "boiling", and I suddenly realized it was a monster tornado on the ground, heading right at us. I called the beauty salon and yelled for them to take cover, then, like a dope, worried that they wouldn't take me seriously, ran over there. Thankfully, the salon had emptied by then. At that point, I didn't think I had time to run back out, plus I was scared and disoriented, so I hunkered down against an inside wall and decided to try to ride it out. Then, lucky for me, the owner of the salon ran back in to get the salon's receipts. He grabbed me, and off we went, down to the basement of a nearby building. My cousin was already there, and I can remember that we just had time to clutch each other's hands when it roared over us. Strangely, neither of us can remember hearing the roar of the tornado, or the screaming of everyone huddled together. When all was quiet, we had quite a time getting out of the basement, as the outside stairwell was full of debris. As I recall, there were at least two deaths there: one man in his apartment and a man at the service station. We were right in the eye of the tornado and it looked like a war zone everywhere around us. Everything was gone. An amazing sidebar: when my car was dug out two days or so later, we found items from our bathroom in the trunk! I've lived in Kansas all my life and that's the only tornado I've ever witnessed."

-- Jan Griffin




" Being 11 years old and growing up in Topeka, I was used to tornado sirens and going to the basement. So when the sirens sounded that evening of June 8, 1966, I didn't think anything of it until my sister and I went out to the garage to retrieved our two mother cats and their 8 newborn kittens. I noticed the sky was the eeriest green I had ever seen and I felt this night was different from all other nights.

After we got all the kittens down to the basement my Dad told us to sit against the wall and he started putting boards against the wall making a lean-to over the family. It was at that moment that I knew this was not just a casual tornado warning. I remember my Dad stood at the basement window while we all listened to the radio broadcast.

Then I heard my Dad announce, "Here it comes," as he ran under the lean-to with the rest of the family. Within seconds we heard what sounded like the biggest freight train I had ever heard. The debris hitting the house sounded like thousands of baseball bats being thrown against the house. It was the scariest sound I had ever heard.

As we all ventured out into the yard, I was stunned by the eerie quietness that surrounded us. And the damage was unbelievable for my 11 year old eyes to comprehend. The top of our tree on the patio had been torn off and was now on top of our garage causing it to cave in, all the northside windows of the house had been shattered, a 6" splinter of wood was "nailed" into our porch post, our porch chair was found a block away, and the yard was so full of debris that it took us about two weeks to clean it up. Just three houses south of us the entire roof was gone.

We were without electricity for two weeks but the houses across the street had power so we were able to keep our perishables in the neighbor's fridge. We cooked hamburgers on an old kerosene stove on the back porch. I remeber walking down to a Red Cross station at the end of our block where they were serving goulash and I wanted some so badly because I was so sick of eating just sandwiches and hamburgers but my Mom said, "No, that is for those who don't have anything to eat and we have food to eat."

A few days after the tornado hit, my Dad took the family for a drive around the city to see all the damage and by the time we got over to the Washburn campus, I was so sick to my stomach from seeing all the devastation. That evening is etched in my mind forever."

-- Margaret Cochrane



"I was 12 years old in 1966. I lived on the 400 block on Emmett with my parents, my Grandmother, and my sister and her newborn son while her husband was stationed in Labrador. I remember the sky and how awesome it looked. I remember that evening making a cake. While it was baking, I went outside to look at the sky some more. We had a 2ft. sidewalk that went from the house to the street. We lived on the west side of the street, the house facing east. I remember jumping on one side the sidewalk and it being cool, and then jumping on the the other
side of the sidewalk and it being hot. I thought this was so cool, and jumped back and forth for a while. I went in and cooled the cake and frosted it, and as soon as I was finished, the sirens went off. All 5 of us went to our small rock basement, and our two dogs. Daddy was at work. The neighbor lady across the street with her two daughters ran over also and joined us in the basement. We were down there a little while listening to the radio, when we heard a noise up stairs and someone running across the floor. I was the lady's husband. I remember his face when he came down the stairs, full of fear. He only said, 'It's here, and it's a big one.' A few seconds later we heard what sounded like alot of trains. I did not know until later that was the tornado. It became so loud, and then faded off just as fast as it came. When it was clear to go back upstairs, I remember the sky but it was different then before. I remember trash all over, but the only thing we saw wrong at our house at first, was a broken window that the
neighbor man broke to get in. I also remember going into town the next day, I think we went to the bank. Soldiers with guns we everywhere, mom said people were stealing and they were here to help. Just 2 blocks from our home people were not so lucky. They lost everything. I will always remember that night and what I saw the days following. It could of been us. And when I hear a siren for a tornado, I remember June 8th 1966, and then I run to a basement and pray."

-- Kathy Slater Keesee



"When the tornado hit, I was just sitting down to an awards steak
dinner at the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The man next to me had just been served his steak, when someone said "Go to the basement, tornado, tornado." I was hesitant about leaving the table because I knew that my steak was on the way. I went to the basement and waited with the others. The lights went out and we heard lots of wind followed by what sounded like gravel falling on a back entrance. Then it was all over that quick. Someone said "All Clear" and we all went upstairs to find everything in the place broken and thrown around. A couple of employees who weathered it out upstairs had cuts and bruises all over. My date and I went to check out my vehicle and found that it didn't have much damage except that there was no glass intact anywhere in the car.

After contacting our families we walked to Stormont-Vail Hospital and acted as messengers trying to reunite families.

It was really quite an experience that will be ingrained in my memory forever."

-- Rod Hunt



"My family lived across from Washburn University at 2045 MacVicar, where the Weatherwood Apartments now stand. Our home was made of steel and was virtually soundproof when it was closed up as it was that day with the air conditioner running. My mother and grandmother were watching a Kansas City television station and had my father and brother not been out on the front porch, we would not have heard the sirens.

Our house did not have a basement so we headed next door to the neighbors and downstairs into their storm/bomb shelter. My dad stayed up at our back door watching the storm come in. My brother went back up to get him and wanted to get our year-old Irish Setter who was in his pen in the backyard, but there was no time. The minute they got down into the shelter, it hit.

The window blew out of the room we were in and there was a ball of fire when our house literally blew up. A man who had come in off the street to take refuge stood in front of me with his overcoat stretched over me to protect me. I can remember feeling the wind blow things onto my feet and the deafening sound the tornado made.

We walked up the stairs to find nothing of the house that we had been in...the tornado took the house, picked it up, and threw it in the backyard. There was no carpet, linoleum, or anything except the plywood decking left. Looking to the south, we saw what was left of our house and the neighborhood. I asked my mom where we were going to live, and she said "I don't know...I just don't know..."

As we made our way through the downed trees and massive debris to the front porch, there stood our dog, Laddie. The tornado picked him up out of his pen (all of which including the large tree within was totally gone) and set him down on the front porch, directly behind a downed tree. His coat was black as coal and he had some glass embedded in him, but otherwise he was okay and he went on to live a long life.

There were steel panels from our house twisted around trees all over the campus and the neighborhood for quite awhile afterward.

I believe I became a weather watcher that day, at age 7."

-- Sue Schilling



"June 8th, 1966- My brother James Eric was born that morning at St. Francis Hospital. I remember the excitement of having a baby
brother. I was 6 yrs old at the time. While mom was in the hospital I stayed with Aunt Hazel and Uncle Robert just south of Lake Shawnee (37th & Croco). My baby sister, Felicia was with relatives in Oakland. I remember being in the basement watching TV. As the adults listened and watched, we stepped outside and looked to the north, in time to see the tornado in Oakland (it would be some time before we knew family members in Oakland were okay). I was amazed by the darkness and how huge the funnel cloud was. This site has made a lasting impression on my life, from being very scared and afraid of tornado watches and warnings as a youngster to being a spotter as a police officer. My mother tells a story of this special day in our family. While in the hospital, patients were placed in the hallway during the warning (no basement!) My father worked in the emergency room at St. Francis, so he was really busy helping the injured. Mom said he was covered in blood when she did get a chance to see him.
While a tragedy for the City, a special day for the Marcelino Anguiano family."

-- John P. Anguiano



"I transferred to Washburn for the fall semester of 1966 and found a vibrant faculty teaching in less than ideal conditions. I attended classes in the Field House and in trailers lining the outskirts of the Stoffer parking lot. Eventually we had classes in other buildings and the new women's PE facility. I lived a short distance from campus in an upstairs apartment on Throop Street and worked afternoons at Blue Cross-Blue Shield while attending classes in the mornings and evenings. The quality of instruction provided was superb and I truly believe that the physical conditions did not lessen the overall quality of education provided."

-- Roberta "Bobbie" Flaherty




"I was a student at Washburn in 1966 and lived in the Seabrook area with my family. I am a veteran and attended school at Washburn and graduated in 1970. I attended school full time and worked full time at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. 1966 was a memorable year for many reasons. First, the tornado destroyed McDonald Baseball Field - we had worked extremely hard to prepare to start the Stan Musial Baseball League in Topeka. Many college players and ex-college players were looking forward to the season starting June 8, 1966. After the tornado destroyed the field, we played many of our games in Rossville and ball parks we could find. Our team was C&W Market. Davey Lopes, a former major league player and coach was a member of our team. Second, I arrived on the campus just a few hours after the tornado hit. I was at work at Goodyear andmy family was at home and were terrified by the noise created by the storm. They got to safety in a church basement near our home. When I drove through the campus a little after 11 P.M., it looked like we had
been hit by an attack from the war. I will never forget the buildings that were destroyed and the trees completely gone. It changed Washburn forever. Many students - older students -
encouraged the younger ones that Washburn would come back better than ever. It has certainly proven that to be the case.

Third, in August, 1966, I fell from a three-story house just south of the Capitol Building and broke my back and shattered my left foot. I was able to return to school in the spring of 1967 and finish my degree. While I was in casts, our third son was born October 3, 1966. I recovered and graduated from Washburn University in May 1970. I have been teaching since I graduated from college. My oldest son graduated from Washburn and was an All-American in baseball in 1984. His name is Timothy Taylor. Currently I am chairman of English Department in a large high school in Dallas, Texas. Timothy is an English teacher in a large high school in Dallas and head girls softball coach. I coached until 2001. I will be retiring from teaching in one more year. While I was in Kansas - 20 years - I started the Kansas High School Baseball Coaches
Association."

-- Donald R. Taylor, BED, 1970



"I was a sophomore at Washburn and I was looking forward to attending the Washburn Summer Session that summer of 1966. I was living at home on the south side of Topeka (close to White Lakes Mall) at that time and I remember when the sirens went off early that evening.

After the storm had passed, I drove to the campus, and it looked like a war zone. I was a physics and astronomy major, and I was concerned about the status of the Crane Observatory on top of Stoffer Science Hall. When I arrived, I discovered the dome had been blown completely away. Most of the buildings were either completely destroyed or badly damaged.

I ventured into Stoffer Science hall and discovered Dr. Alexander had already removed the objective lens from the 12-inch telescope and was examining the damage. (The lens was pitted in several places).

In the next few days there was talk about W.U. closing down totally because of all the damage and the possibility of the loss of many of the academic records and files. But, this did not happen. W.U. Summer session started the next week at Topeka West High School. It was an incredible effort to recover and bring the campus back over the next couple of months (and years).

I was also in the University band and Jazz Workshop (Mr. James Van Slyke - conductor) and I really missed our rehearsals and concerts in McVicar Chapel. It was a very unique time to be attending Washburn during the late 1960's and to be a part of this history."

-- Frank Van Vleck




"In June, 1966, I was a student at Washburn, living in the duplexes on West 29th Terrace (just East of Gage). Although I had been born and raised in Topeka, I had very little knowledge of, or interest in, tornados. I was young and infallible! That, of course, all changed in an instant.

The day was extremely hot and humid, and by afternoon the skies were looking ominous and rather "greenish," enough so that I cut my shopping in Holiday Square short to get home. Those skies were the tipoff that this evening was probably going to be different from most hot, summer nights, and would be life-changing for many in Topeka and the surrounding areas.

I had dinner planned with a friend that evening and would be away from the house. So I listened to the radio weather warnings, and fed my cat, and left for my dinner, hoping that the rain wouldn't leak in my window as it sometimes did. I had barely arrived at my friends home at 6:30 as Bill Kurtis, the weatherman on WIBW TV, described damage from "extremely high winds" in towns southwest of Topeka. But, of course, Topeka was protected from tornados by Burnett's Mound, or so we had always been led to believe, "so Topeka itself was in no danger," I thought.

At 6:45 it became clear that Topeka was directly in the path of
these "winds" and would likely suffer some damage, and so I determined to run back home to put my new patio furniture inside the house to protect it. I arrived home at about 7:00, having borrowed my friend's car to make the quick trip! A regrettable decision on her part! And so, after a race down Gage Blvd, with dirt-black clouds churning behind Burnett's Mound, I rushed in the front door with the tornado sirens wailing only a few blocks from my house...no chance of missing them!

Forgetting about the new patio furniture, I grabbed the cat, and
headed for my basement in which was stored several large wardrobes full of my aunt Daisy Hindman's clothes, which were still there since her death the previous summer. I had a radio down there and turned it on in time to hear Rick (the DJ) on the radio saying that "It's coming down Burnett's Mound AFTER ME!" At the same time, on my TV Bill Kurtis was warning, "For Gods Sake! TAKE COVER NOW!" And I thought, "Oh my God! I've never even HEARD of anyone living through a Tornado and I'm #$^#$@ gonna die!"

After a quick peek out of the basement window, I could see nothing but black clouds, with Rick hollering in the background on the radio, and Bill K. repeating his steady, serious warning. I crouched down in the SW corner of the basement, pulling one of those big wardrobes full of clothing down on top of cat and me! Cat, by that time, had decided that this was not to her liking, and she decided she wanted to CLIMB out, over me and over the wardrobe! However, in that same moment, I heard "the train" and it was as if I was lying next to the train tracks as it passed...I heard no glass breaking, no wood splintering, nothing but the thundering roar and the ground-shaking of something
consequential happening. At that same moment the extreme drop in pressure made my ears pop painfully. Air evaporated. I could barely breathe.

I stayed motionless for a moment or two, moving various body parts to make sure that I was, indeed, alive, and that the parts were actually working! Suddenly, I recognized the smell of gas and thought, "Oh NO! Now I'm gonna be blown to smithereens or burned to death! I gotta get outta here!" And so, with Cat still under one arm, I shoved the heavy wardrobe away and started up the stairs, wondering why there was "something" floating in the air, pieces that were slapping and stinging me.

As I reached the top of the stairs I was stopped dead in my tracks by the spectre before me, and at that moment relaxed my grip on Cat and she dashed off in one hysterical leap! My carpet (new) had gone from pale green to brown. Splinters filled my living room where antiques a few minutes ago had been, and the walls were gone. The only wall left standing was the center-beam wall that separated the duplexes. Needless to say, the patio furniture was probably, by that time, in Missouri! I was utterly speechless.

And, like the creatures of habit we all are, as I ran out of the
duplex, back toward my neighbor who lived to the South of me, I went and knocked frantically on his back door. Suddenly his face appeared around a jagged corner laughing and asking me why I was knocking on the door when it was the only wall left standing!!! Two steps to the right and I'd have been in what was left of his living room!

Two dear friends were approaching my neighborhood from Gage Blvd as the storm struck and, because they got there in record time, before the police, they got through and came to "rescue" me. They did, and thus began a long sequence of events that saw us walking down 29th to Burlingame, to Washburn and across the now-ravaged campus IN THE DARK, HOLDING HANDS with all of the downed power lines, to get to my dinner-partner-friend's house to tell her that her car was gone! Somehow it seemed important at the time.

Although there were many pets killed that night, many in my own
neighborhood who were outside, three days after the storm, my beloved Cat returned to our home, and reluctantly let me "catch her." She was a mess, having gotten into some kind of tar mixture that I was told came from telephone poles. But she was alive, and so was I. She lived another 10 years after the storm. I finished my degree in Social Work and went on to grad school, but June 8th NEVER passes without my notice and without a moment of thanks for having survived that night when 17 others died. It could have so easily been me. As with so many others with whom I have spoken over the years, June 8, 1966 was a life-altering experience. Life eventually got back to normal for me, and for the City, and for Washburn, but it took years. And it was never the same, nor was I."

-- Judith A. Miller, BA '67



"I was between my junior and senior years as a Washburn student when the tornado changed campus life. I was out of town when it hit, but returned shortly afterwards to find a campus unfamiliar in appearance, but very much alive!

Most people have seen the pictures of the actual damage to campus, but having walked the grounds, the pictures don't begin to tell the story. Of course, the buildings being destroyed left such a void, but the loss of the trees made such a remarkable difference in the appearance of the campus. The almost "forested" campus was de-nuded and seemed so barren. The air on campus smelled of freshly-cut cedar for a long time after the tornado since there had been so many cedar groves on campus.

Going to class at "Trailer Tech" (as we often referred to WU in the
next few years) presented some interesting experiences. The trailers were organized into villages named after the destroyed buildings and were relatively comfortable. However, inclement weather made getting to the trailers challenging, as we often had to use boardwalks instead of sidewalks to reach our classes. And the mud was everywhere, it seemed. Professors had to shout over the sound of the rain hammering on the flat roof surface of the trailers, too, and some just gave up and dismissed class when the noise from the rain was too loud for a lecture to occur. Needless to say, some students prayed for rainy days!

Surprisingly, campus activities did not suffer, for the University
worked around the clock to ready the campus for students returning to campus in the fall of 1966. The Union, Moore Bowl, Whiting Fieldhouse all had some damage that was repaired in time for the start of school, so football games were held, basketball teams competed, bridge and coffee in the Union were possible and the usual sorts of organizations continued their activities. Some sorority members were displaced because of destruction or damage to their houses, but town members invited many to share their homes and some rented apartments or houses. Lack of space encouraged lots of "closeness" among members!

A word of appreciation should be given to all the members of the
faculty and administration who kept Washburn alive despite the
tremendous difficulties and challenges. As students, we noticed only minor inconveniences, but I know that faculty members lost precious books, papers, research materials, etc. and were displaced from offices. The administration made certain that enrollment happened smoothly, finances and financial aid were handled well and student needs were met.
This was, by any measure, a remarkable accomplishment of truly devoted employees of the University. It is their legacy to the Washburn of today."

-- Carol Vogel, BA 1967



"I was an adjunct instructor in Geology at that time. I still am. We
had not yet completed enrollment at the time the tornado hit. I and the Dept. Head enrolled students at Topeka West High School and I taught Geology over there that summer. I transported all my rock and mineral samples over to West. By the time the Fall term started, Washburn had Stoffer Hall repaired and mobile class rooms were in place just east of the Stoffer parking lot."

-- Al Stallard




"I was working on the WU building and grounds crew for Lloyd Durow that summer, as a summer job after my junior year at Topeka High. We certainly had our work cut out for us after the storm. I am a WU Law grad, practicing here in Topeka, and a WU adjunct, teaching a couple of military history courses. My guess is that not too many WU employees during the tornado are employees today."

-- William Barker




"I personally am neither from Topeka nor a native Kansan, but here in Iowa, I definitely remember hearing the news of the June 8th tornado as a nine-year-old child. Several months later, the local TV station in Mason City ran the documentary made by WIBW about the disaster that included the film footage of Bill Kurtis saying, "For God's sake, take cover!" A little more than four months after the Topeka tornado, a massive twister struck the town of Belmond which is close to where I live, literally wiping out almost the entire community."

-- Kevin Young




"The day began sultry - the kind of day the old timers called "tornado weather". I was a teenager who had just sat down to watch the Patty Duke show when the tornado sirens sounded and the news came on about the approaching tornado. I kept watching in horror as the reports came in from Burnett's Mound, from the Embassy Apartments, from Washburn, and then downtown Topeka. We lived in Oakland and I knew the tornado was making a bee-line towards us. I yelled at my mother who was outside looking at the clouds to get into the basement. As we headed
down I could hear the roar - something I'll never forget. We huddled near the basement window where we could see the tornado. It was, as I believe it is now called, "roping out" and was white. Debris continued to drop onto the house and yard, but we did not suffer a direct hit.

After it passed, we went upstairs to call my brother in Texas to let
them know we were OK - 20 minutes later the phone lines went out. We walked around outside checking for damage in the neighborhood. Little did we know at the time that the Garden Park area just two blocks south, and Billard Airport, had suffered considerable damage. We were lucky. Although the gas was shut off for a couple of weeks, electricity was restored sooner and we were able to watch the reports on TV. We sat in disbelief and horror watching the video, and prayed for those who were not as fortunate. We found papers from the building at 10th and Kansas in our yard, as well as 2x4's and insulation among other things. About a week later, on the way home from my summer job, there was another tornado warning. People ran red lights and were speeding through the streets to take cover.

I'll never forget June 8th, and I now keep an eye on the skies and an ear to the weather reports. We've come a long way in tornado warnings but June 8th is a vivid reminder that no matter how technically advanced weather forcasting is, tornadoes can still do incredible damage...and an F5 has been referred to as 'the finger of God'. Let's hope we never have to see such as that again."

-- Barbara Goodman



"I was sixteen years old when the tornado hit. My family and I lived in the Oakland area. My mother was working in the downtown area and my dad was working as a bartender a few blocks from our home. I was babysitting my younger sister and four younger brothers. My sister and I had our hair in curlers because we were getting ready for a dance that was scheduled to be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Hall later that evening. When the sirens went off, I herded the kids down to the basement. We took a jug of water and the transistor radio with us. The two youngest brothers were crying and asking for their mama.
I remember the sky was a sickly green color. The atmosphere was thick and quiet. I was so scared but I had to keep that to myself. The radio was broadcasting that the tornado had hit Washburn and the downtown area. My mom was downtown! I felt sick to my stomach. But then I heard that it was heading toward the Oakland area. When it passed over us, it sounded like a freight train. When the all-clear was sounded, we ventured out and heard a pounding on the door. It was my dad. I was so glad to see him. We went outside to survey the damage. We were spared, but two blocks over we learned that the OLG Hall had been demolished. Had the tornado hit an hour later, it would
have been crammed full of teenagers. My mother finally arrived home. She said that someone with a car (she didn't know the person) stopped and offered her a ride. The car was already jammed with passengers but she gratefully accepted. When she arrived home, she almost fainted with relief to find her family and home safe. My mother, who never sipped anything stronger than a beer, had to take a shot of whiskey. That in itself was as much of an indicator of the power of the tornado!! To this day, I still shake when the sirens sound."

--Guadalupe (Tetuan) Martinez




"We were living on 30th Terr just below Burnett's Mound. We were in the southwest corner of the basement when our father knew we had to get out of the house. My mother, father, brother, sister, pet dog, as well as a cousin and her son that was at the house with us, and myself got into our car and headed toward Gage Blvd in hopes of getting on the interstate to get away from the storm. Instead, the oxygen was sucked out of the car on Gage in front of the Embassy/Hunington Park Apartments and the car died. We all laid over on the seats and rode out the storm. We were actually picked up inside the tornado itself and thrown around, then thrown against the apartments as the storm moved on. We all walked away with glass and splitters embedded in us. My father had a nail puncture in his back from a board that had gone from the back window through the steering wheel and out the front window. My cousin had a board hit her in the check and cut it. Other than that we were all OK.

When my father went back to the house later that night, in the
southwest corner where we had been before we left, there was over six foot of debris and most likely we would have all been killed if we would have stayed in the home."

-- Sandra (Lollar) Dowell



"On June 8, 1966, I was in my 19th year as a member of a two-man Associated Press staff in the capital city of Kansas. On that fateful day, I was working alone. The other AP staffer was on vacation. He and his family were in Levelland, Texas, visiting relatives. Normally I would have worked until about 6:30 p.m. But, the U.S. Weather Service had issued a tornado watch for northeast Kansas and it seemed prudent to stay on the job in case something developed.

The AP office was a small room to the north of the Topeka Capital-Journal news room. On the east side of the news room was a row of teletype machines, most of them bringing in news and features. One, however, was connected to the Weather Service office at Topeka’s Billard airport. These teletypes were equipped with bells that would signal important news, or in the case of the weather teletype, possible severe weather developments. A jangle from the weather teletype just after 7 p.m. signaled an urgent message. I rushed to the machine and read that a tornado had entered the southwest side of Topeka, in the area of Burnett’s mound. Immediately, I sped back to the AP office and filed a bulletin on our teletype to get the news to the outside world.

Several Capital-Journal employees were standing at the windows on the south side to view the storm. Suddenly, they let out a cry, “Here it comes.” We all made a dash to the basement level. In almost no time the storm was whirling by. Doors – and it seemed that even the building – shook. Then it was quiet with a rather eerie twilight outside. On return to the AP office, I found there was no telephone service, no electricity.

A trip outside revealed some damage to the Capital-Journal building, but it was obvious that the worst of the storm had been a few yards to the south. Nevertheless, several of the cars in the Capital-Journal parking lot, including mine, had received a buffeting. My car was a small coupe. All of the windows and the windshield had been blown out. Small bits of glass covered the seats and the floor. Every inch of the white paint exterior looked as if it had been pockmarked by shotgun pellets.

I did not linger. All signs indicated Topeka had suffered a major
catastrophe. My immediate, overriding thought was to find some place where I could be assured of telephone service – to collect all the information possible and to be able to relay that information to the Associated Press bureau in Kansas City for dissemination to the nation and the world. With that in mind, I walked across the Sixth Street bridge over Interstate 70 and proceeded south on Quincy Street to the building housing the Kansas area offices of Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. All along the way heavy damage could be sighted a short distance to the south. I was able to reach Bill Bailey, the Southwestern Bell public relations representative for Kansas. He agreed to let me use his office and telephone. The windows in his office had been blown out by winds swirling on the edges of the actual funnel path. And although it got rather chilly in that office in the wee hours of the morning, it was evident I had figured correctly. If I could be assured of telephone service, it would be in that office.

For the rest of that night and much of the next day, I stayed there
gathering information by phone from city officials, police, Washburn University officials, Topeka hospitals, funeral homes, and other sources. As circumstances warranted, this information was relayed by telephone to the Associated Press office in Kansas City. There it was put in story form and sent out to newspapers, radio and television stations all across the nation, and even the world. I think it is fair to say this was a major link that Wednesday night and the next day between Topeka and the outside world. This was confirmed later when the Topeka AP bureau received front pages from major newspapers all across the country headlining the Associated Press story on this monster storm.

I did find time to check on my family. Our residence was well away from the tornado path, but we had a daughter working as an aide at the Kansas Neurological Institute. Her place of work was a wooden structure which had been built as an army hospital ward during World War II. I was relieved to find she was safe although the tornado had cut across the grounds of the Institute.

I worked without sleep through all of Wednesday night and Thursday, although the AP sent in some reinforcements from Kansas City and Wichita. As things began settling down, we determined that an AP teletype in a press room at the Kansas Statehouse was still operational. The AP advised me it wanted me to do a follow-up story for Sunday newspapers. I did some interviewing on Friday, got a little sleep that night and on Saturday morning started writing.

This story was told mainly through the experiences, actions and
reactions of four individuals who were intimately involved with the
storm. Two of them were Mrs. Pearl Miller and Mrs. Louis Heil, who
rode out the fury of the storm under a table in Mrs. Miller’s home in the Embassy Apartments just below Burnett’s mound – a complex badly wrecked by the storm. Also featured was David Hathaway, Topeka policeman, who was posted to the Burnett Mound area just before the tornado moved in.. An then there was P.N. Eland, of the Topeka office of the Weather Service, who issued the warning and eventually had to take cover under a desk at the weather service office at Billard Airport when the funnel passed only yards away.

As I wrote, each finished page was ripped from the typewriter and
handed to a teletype operator who sent it unedited to the Kansas City AP bureau where the story was relayed across the nations."

-- Elon Torrence



"On the evening of June 8, 1966, I was working on the front desk of the Ramada Inn on East Sixth. I had just finished my junior year at Washburn and had started work with Ramada a week earlier.

When word of the tornado came in to the front desk, we began lobby and restaurant announcements and calling occupied rooms to indicate the need to go to the basement.

The wind from the tornado blew open both sets of the front doors, it was suddenly near dark, and the sound was a loud roar. Although I had grown up in Southeast Kansas, this was the first time that I had ever gone to a basement for a tornado.

The Ramada Inn had some window damage and the roof was slightly raised in the main building. The Inn was weeks away from an intended opening of its first major expansion. Instead, the new rooms were opened for power line and telephone workers who were brought in late that night. The new rooms were opened with temporary numbers and sheets to cover the windows. Most of those workers stayed at the Inn for a number of weeks. During that time the rooms were actually completed and different permanent numbers were installed. So the workers came back
one night to find all their room numbers changed.

With the newspaper offices a block way blown out, the reporter calls were routed through the Ramada switchboard. Even so a number of exaggerated rumors still circulated on the damage. Word came in that the top three stories of the (Docking) State Office Building and the dome on the Capitol were gone.

When I left work at around 2 A.M., I still had no idea of the routes
open across town. I finally found that Topeka Boulevard was open for one lane and both sides looked like a bombing run for blocks.

I did not have damage where I was living for the summer. However, many of the Ramada staff did have house or apartment damage. So my next ten days was mostly spent working at Ramada with little time to see more than the Topeka Boulevard and the Ramada area damage."

-- Bruce Roby



"My 8th birthday was only 3 days away when the tornado hit Topeka and the only thing I got that year was my baby brother John who was born on my birthday June 11."

-- Jim Garcia




"Do I remember that June 8? Oh, do I remember! My name is Virgil King and my memory is growing somewhat dim, but I do remember that evening. I and my wife, Bonnie, along with our 6 children lived on Kincaid Road about 1/4 mile north of Seward, that is east of Billard Airport. The Pollards lived north of us. Some were ready to go to a Scout meeting and oh my, that storm! We all went down in our basement and stayed. There was an outside basement door and, after a while, it began to get real light outside. Bill Pollard walked outside and remarked, “Look, it’s all over!” Me behind him, I turned and looked toward Oakland and oh, my Lord the whole sky was full of Oakland. We weren’t slack in heading back to the basement for cover and what a hallowed noise! It would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. We waited that time till it was well quieted and all the power was off. The phone was off. Our five acres was completely covered
with Topeka pieces – all perishables – there was nothing solid. Later news said a keg from Topeka set down in St. Joseph, MO. It was still intact. How merciful God was to us. Things started raising east of Oakland and the tail was 100 yards wide where it peeled the ground coming out of the airport not very far north of us.

Glory to God! The only damage to us was the windshield out of our pickup truck, 5 acres of debris, and our power off for 9 days. Company came from Oklahoma. We survived with joy and a loan of a generator.

I was an Ironworker, working for Clemmons Construction at the time building the Macy store on 8th and Kansas. Our crew was called up for emergency help with a crane. They couldn’t reach me that evening but my friend, Kenneth Bell, and some of the others lifted the walls of a house that had folded. There sat two little elderly people in their easy chairs home free. What a way out! We hope no suffering.

All the city buses were in the barn at that hour when the storm hit
and in a day or so Clemmons was called to get them out and try to keep from damaging the ones that weren’t hurt too bad. The building was block walls and the top was metal trusses, which the storm had lifted up and set down on top of the buses. Stay with me now this gets better! We had a crane in back with two ironworkers, a cutting torch, and chokers to lift the iron. The same in front of the building and maybe on the south side also. Now listen to this, Willis Barber and whoever was helping him were in the back near the alley. There was a gentlemen standing by closely observing them. The walls had folded on his building. He kept asking if they could swing around and give him a pick. Finally they did! When one wall was raised up, it must have been full of money because money fell everywhere! Of course, you know
the gentleman wouldn’t let them make another pick. That was all he needed!

Now back to the storm damage. It was a horrible sight to drive
through Topeka where you could and see. I even saw a station wagon sitting on the second floor of a house. Folks, we endured that storm and let that be a lesson to us. Topeka lived under the promise of a man. Burnett’s Mound would always protect it. Folks – what did God say? That storm peeled right down the side of and all the way through Topeka. Let us watch and pray.

PS Bonnie said we were rated R for a few days until we got all the
Playboy magazines picked up off our place!"

-- Virgil Lee King



"I remember being in church the early evening of June 8th, 1966 for Wednesday night services. My father was the minister of Pine Ridge Baptist Church located across the street from the Pine Ridge Housing development around East 10th & Highland Street. We were in the middle of the service when we heard the tornado sirens sound. My dad stopped preaching and the congregation began opening windows and looking outside to see what was going on. The sky was a strange greenish, darkish color and was filled with debri from what the tornado was tearing up along it's path. We all stood around for a little while either outside the church or inside looking out open windows and watching in amazement. The church did not have a basement, so we ended up going over to a neighbor's house until the danger passed.

Later that evening, my dad decided to drive to the hospitals to see if he could help. He had been an x-ray technician for many years and wanted to assist with the huge numbers of injured people who were streaming into the hospital. However, he had to return home before reaching his destination because of the damage and the roads that were blocked by the police.

A few days later our family was able to drive around to view and
document the devastation. It was an experience I will never
forget." -

- Cindy (Rankin) Stillings



"In June of 1966, I was the University’s Bookstore Manager. Since the summer classes moved to Topeka West High following the tornado, it was necessary for the bookstore to move to that campus. A faculty member came to me and asked if there was anything he could do to help. So, one evening he and I packed books together, he on one side of a table and me on the other. We talked as we packed. It was a very pleasant time for me during a stressful situation."  

-- Harold Holden



"I was 8 years old and at my babysitter's while my mom was at work. Her name was Linda and she was not very nice. When the tornado came, it got very windy and and it was an eerie color outside. The sirens went off and I could sense the fear. Of course, I started crying.

When it was over, my mom called to see if I was OK. Linda told her I could talk to her as soon as I stopped crying. My mom told her to let me talk to her right now and she wouldn't unless I stopped crying! Needless to say, my mom came and got me and I never had to go back to mean old Linda's again!

The next day we found out that our dog had her puppies out on the porch during the storm. Also, a huge oak tree had fallen on a corner of the porch. We couldn't believe a tree that big could be uprooted like that. The only change in my life was having to go to double shifts at my school. It was weird getting out of school after dark, but we were very lucky.

Later, as I grew a bit older, I was to realize the complete
devastation and loss of lives. When I was ten, we moved to the
apartments on Burnett's Mound. There was a cross erected there with the names of the people who had died during that tornado."

-- Brenda Cook Johns



"I had just finished my first year of teaching in the Topeka Public
Schools (Parkdale School) and was taking a class at Washburn
University so that I could renew my teaching certificate. I was at
home in my apartment that evening and I can remember having a really bad headache for some reason--later I wondered if it had been from the already unstable atmosphere. My apartment was the top floor of a house on Topeka Avenue (several blocks south of the capitol building) and the lady who owned the house lived on the ground floor. Elsie (I think that was her name and I can't remember her last name) was a social worker for the state so she wasn't at home much of the time. Fortunately for me, Elsie was at home that evening of June 8, 1966!

I heard the tornado sirens go off and I turned on my new TV to hear Bill Kurtis telling everyone to seek shelter immediately! Then my phone rang and it was Elsie telling me to come downstairs and she and I would go into her basement. I grabbed a magazine and took it with me so that I would have something to read while we waited for the storm to pass by. We sat in the basement and listened to the radio and heard that the tornado had come over Burnett's Mound and was on its way into the city. But I still wasn't really scared--I thought it was just some small twister that probably would't do very much damage and certainly wouldn't hit the house in which I was living. Then soon we heard the very loud roar of what sounded like a monster train--and the windows of the basment were blown in! We were hit by mud and debris but not any glass. We felt the pressure of the tornado and it seemed as though the house was going to be picked up and then smashed
right down on top of us again! I remember thinking that this was
probably the last day of my life--and then the storm blew over and was on its way across town--and I was still alive! I said a prayer of thanks for that! And I never did get around to reading that magazine!

When the "all clear" sirens sounded, we went upstairs and looked at our surroundings. It looked as though we were in a war zone and that the area had been hit by a bomb! All we could see was destrucion! Trees were broken and stripped of their leaves. People came out of their houses and wandered about as if in a daze. People in cars began driving down Topeka Avenue and stared at us as we stood in our house without any walls. It was very eerie!

My apartment was pretty much gone--a few walls were left standing but there was no roof. The closet in my bedroom stayed so all my clothes (the ones that I had put away at least!) were still there. Some of my furniture was still in my apartment but it was broken and muddy and wet! The bedspread from my bed was draped over my little VW--which was parked in the alley behind the house. A tree had fallen onto my car and the top was smashed in--but it was still driveable. I found dishes, etc. under the area rug in the living room--the wind had apparently lifted up the rug and deposited stuff under it. My new TV was still there but was broken and not useable. I can remember thinking that I was alive and that I could always buy more things--and that everything would be okay!

Elsie had a friend who was a ham radio operator and he came over to see if we were okay. He asked if he could help in any way so I asked if he could somehow contact my parents who lived in Beatrice, Nebraska and tell them that I was okay but that I would need some help in cleaning up my things. He came back again the following morning to say that he had radioed someone in South Dakota who then had called my parents by phone and had told them that I had been in the tornado but was okay. My parents told me later that they had heard about the tornado on their radio and they kind of knew that I had been right in the path of it but there had been nothing they could do except to pray--which they did. They had then gone to bed which is where they were when they received the call from South Dakota. They told the person who had called them that they would be coming to help me the following morning.

One of Elsie's bedrooms was at the back of the house (to the east) and there wasn't any floor over it so the roof stayed on that room. She and I slept (I don't know if we really slept!) in that room. I can remember the next morning waking up and hearing birds singing as if they too were thankful to be alive.

My parents did come from Nebraska the following morning and I was so very glad to see them! They said that they had been stopped as they approached that part of Topeka Avenue and were asked what they were doing there. They said that they were coming to help me and they were then allowed to drive right on through to where I was. My parents thought that this was another answer to prayer.

My good friend Elly who lived in another part of Topeka (her house was out of the tornado area) was out of town and I had the key to her house because I was taking care of her cat while she was gone. So I called Elly who was in Boston, Massachusetts on vacation to tell her that her house was okay--but that I was moving into her house for the time being. I'm sure she wondered why she had ever given me the key to her house! I later found another apartment and was ready to teach again when the school year started. I traded in my rather sad looking VW for a Karmen Ghia--and life went on.

After a few days, the class that I had been attending at Washburn
started again--but in a church because Washburn was also badly damaged by the tornado. I remember sitting in class one day and suddenly having to just get up and walk out because I felt as though I couldn't handle things. And for a long time after that, whenever I heard any kind of siren, I had to just calm myself down and remind myself that it wasn't a tornado warning but just a fire truck or an ambulance. But I also remember all the concern and care from family and friends. It got to be kind a joke to be able to say that when I had done something dumb that, after all, I had been in the tornado and could therefore be excused!

I now live in Texas where very few houses have basements--I still get scared when a storm heads my way! I'll always be thankful that my landlady was at home on June 8, 1966, and that I could go into her basement for shelter--or I probably would have ended up being draped over my car along with my bedspread!"

-- Doris Claassen Locke



"June 8, 1966 was our 8th wedding anniversary. We had driven in from Texas that day, watching the clouds and often commenting that we were lucky it was not storming while we were driving.

We arrived home and Buck and our daughters, Colleen (6) and Monica (4) went to get the dog from the kennel. I got busy unpacking and starting laundry. When Buck and the girls got home they reported that the neighbors had said we were in a tornado watch. Our home was 3600 SW 30th Street, right at the crest of the hill between Atwood and Arnold. When the alarm sounded, we raced to the basement. Buck went to the southwest bedroom window to watch while the girls and I were in a windowless storeroom. Very quickly Buck returned and said, "We're going to get it!" and the sound of glass breaking started. He had watched it hit at the bottom of the hill and knew what
destruction was coming.

As soon as it was quiet, I ran up the stairs and stepped on a nail!
The sun was out and it was a beautiful June evening, until I looked
east at the fast moving dark clouds. Our bathroom was standing and a single door frame and door still stood. I could not see a single structure that was whole in any direction. The door behind me slammed shut and I stood screaming that I could not open it! All I had to do was step around it, but who can think clearly at a time like that?

I saw a man running down the easement turning off gas meters. Another man pulled up in a jeep and asked if he could take us anywhere. We were holding the girls because of all the glass and debris and they were barefoot (a lesson learned--always were sturdy shoes when taking cover!). The man, and we never got his name, took us a few blocks away to friends. They were still in their basement because they did not know if there had been an all clear--they, of course, had no electricty.

Our friend took Buck to Howard Johnson's Motel to a telephone. He got through to my mother to tell her we were safe and luckily told her to call his parents--we did not get a line out again for several days. On the way back Buck left a note on a friend's door that we needed a place to live. This friend worked for a real estate company and the next morning he contacted us saying he had two rentals, one furnished and one not. We took the unfurnished one because we had so many friends offering us furniture and we knew others might not be as fortunate. By the end of the week we had hired a contractor and we moved back home over Labor Day weekend.

The community, and especially our church friends, gave us so much support. The quick reaction of emergency services was outstanding. Word had quickly spread the evening of the 8th to go to Maude Bishop Elementary to sign in. The next morning signs sprouted on the yards that everyone in the household was accounted for. Supplies for cleaning up were delivered by church groups. Volunteers appeared from all over the state to help out. All those acts made the event less traumatic and, I hope, made all of us involved more caring and helpful to others for the rest of our lives."

-- Janet Jones



"I was seventeen and just out of high school, barely a month. I was living in north Topeka on North Central Street, just one half block north of the post office and attending Capitol City Barber College. I had gotten out of class, it was mid-week and didn't have a test until Friday so I drove out to Capitol Cart Speedway with a friend to race carts. The late afternoon air seemed very heavy and steamy and the breeze felt good flying around the track. In the southwest sky, clouds began to build and look threatening. The air was even more sultry than earlier in the afternoon. Being the age we were, we dismissed the approaching storm as just another inconvenience to our personal itinerary. We continued to race as the wind picked up and the sky darkened. At some point the sirens must have sounded because the track
operator appeared and was franticly waving us in and yelling about a tornado warning and a sighting of a funnel cloud out by Auburn, a town of which we had no idea of it's location.

My friend and I jumped into his old 1950 Ford and headed north on Topeka Avenue toward my apartment. The consequence of our decision to go north instead of south to my home in Lyndon was inconceivable at the time. The traffic was not heavy as we pulled out on to the avenue, but as we passed Noller Ford and 17th Street, we could see the fear in the faces of the people we met or passed. Everyone's driving became very erratic and we realized we were driving over 80 miles per hour. At 10th and Topeka, the intersection was a mess and on the A.M. radio through the static and popping from the lighting we heard the D. J. on K.E.W.I. telling everyone to take cover, that a large tornado was approaching the Topeka city limit out by the White Horse Farm at 37th, and Gage and Burnett's Mound. With the intersection a mess, we cut across the State House grounds and made our way back to Topeka Avenue and across the bridge where we turned right on Gordon St. to Central. The radio was screaming about the storm being in the city and heading toward the downtown area as we screached to a stop leaving the car in the middle of the street. The landlady had locked the doors before going to the basement and our hollering and pounding on the door was to no avail. Had to think! I had to think, what were we to do?

I suddenly remembered another friend of mine had an uncle who lived in Oakland, by the Billard Airport. In the car going at what speed I don't recall, only that it seemed we were not moving at all, we heard the radio transmission going in and out and breaking up. The storm was somewhere in central Topeka around Washburn University. I can remember having a passing thought about two of my classmates from barber college who were living in the University appartments. It took us a while to find the correct house. The wind was howling now and it had become very dark towards downtown. The rain was intermittent, dry or blowing sideways. Just as I jumped from the car and headed to the front door a gust of wind blew me into a tree breaking my glasses in half as they flew from my face hitting a tree. The storm was really close now. It had to be by the capitol building and the center of town. The sound was intense, frightening and ugly. My friend's uncle finally came to the door, at first thinking our pounding was the storm. Upon entering the basement, we were met with another strange sensation. It suddenly became unearthly quiet and then as we felt pressure in our ears and on our chests, a terrible roar filled the room and seemed to go on for ever. As the storm subsided, we ventured out to an unbelieveable sight. Just down the street a block was destruction. Downed trees, wires and pieces of houses and airplane parts.

Later back at our apartment, we caught bits of information about the storm's damage and officials were asking everyone to stay at home and off the streets. The sirens from police and fire vehicles continued throughout the night and into the next day. It wasn't until days later that we knew the extent of the damage and how close we had come to intercepting the tornado along our flight."

-- Doug Peterman



"The warm sultry day began like any other that summer. My husband, John, went to work and I lingered in bed, postponing my bout of nausea until the last possible moment. Eventually I dealt with it, bathed and dressed for my own job, grateful for the air-conditioning if nothing else.

After hours of standing, I was back in the close atmosphere of our
little rental house. Outside, the sky was oddly colored; a tension
seemed to hang in the air. When John came, I fixed a light supper
which was soon interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Salesmen had been pestering us, attracted by my pregnancy. Everything from life insurance to photo packages was offered. Of course, we had no money, but that didn’t stem the flow. This time, an insurance peddler stood on the porch, undeterred by the threatening weather. John was trying to politely discourage the man, but to no avail. The scream of sirens didn’t have any effect either, so my exasperated husband shouted, “I don’t know about you, mister, but we’re going to the basement!” and slammed the door. He grabbed my hand and we negotiated the questionable stairway to the cellar. Fortunately we did not realize at the time that this cellar would begin to self-destruct a month later.

After some apprehensive minutes, the “all clear” signal sounded,
allowing us out of the small dungeon. We quickly turned on the radio only to hear that all National Guard units were to report
immediately. The implications of this directive were scary. John
realized his going would leave me all alone, but he had no choice. He put on his fatigues and boots, kissed me, and hurried out the front door to the unknown. I sat by the radio, listening to the newscasters relaying what scanty information they had. The word “devastation” was used repeatedly about the area around 29th and Gage. No one at that time had any idea that the scope of the damage and the death toll cut across the heart of the city.

My grandparents lived just south and east of the 29th and Gage
intersection, so I was very worried about them. My two uncles and
their families also lived in Topeka. Phone service was out so I could not call anyone. I knew none of the people in our neighborhood just west of Potwin, so the small radio was my only link to what was happening.

Because it was June 8 and not yet 8PM, it was still light when another knock sounded, jolting me out of my absorption with unfolding news. I went to the front door, having no idea of what to expect. There stood two of my cousins, breathlessly explaining that I was to come with them. They had heard the call for the troops and knew I was alone.

Relieved to know that part of my family was all right at least, I
awkwardly piled into the Volkswagen beetle’s backseat behind my
uncle. Evidently on the way over he had tried to get to my
grandparents, but had been turned away by the emergency personnel. He negotiated the route to his house somehow in all of the confusion and we all settled in to watch the television broadcasts and to try the dead phone over and over.

I stretched out on a sofa finally in the wee hours and my cousins all went to bed. Gratitude for my family’s concern tumbled around in my mind with worry for those we couldn’t contact. The television droned on and on.

Morning brought some good news: all of our family members were fine. The only damage sustained by any one of us personally was a downed TV antenna although the childhood home of one of my aunts was destroyed. Each of us lived just outside of the wide swath of the tornado.

John had been on patrol to prevent looting. He and his fellow
soldiers had unloaded weapons the first night, but that order was
changed. Gradually, the extent of the huge twister’s power was
revealed, the dead were buried, the injured treated, and clean-up
started. Topeka was redefined: her beautiful trees and old buildings were flattened. Washburn University was a war zone. I sobbed when I drove by somewhat later.

The city is long since rebuilt and thriving. The diagonal scar across
it from southwest to northeast is healed after forty years, but the
incredible stories remain and have formed an intriguing chapter in
Topeka’s history.

My daughter, born the following November, turns 40 this year."

-- Barbara Waterman-Peters



I was visiting a friend on the west side of town right near but north of Burnett's Mound. When we saw the tornado coming, we tore across the street to a house with a closed-in basement because the basement we were in had sliding doors facing south.

As soon as the roar ended, we went out into the street and looked east and up at the rolling clouds, which were amazingly beautiful, and I said "I need to get home...it is headed toward my house" which was in the 700 block of Lincoln. Driving eastward, every time I came to a road block I turned north and finally was able to get home and check on my Dad.

By then I was hearing about the path of the tornado and knew it went right near the Topeka Capital-Journal building where my mother was the switchboard operator on duty and where I also worked part-time while attending Washburn. I immediately drove toward the newspaper building and was horrified by the amount of damage when I got about a block away, but then I noticed the building was still standing, but every house south of it was gone. I drove into a glass-filled parking lot and headed toward the back door on the east side. Mother let me in the locked door. She was in shock as she described seeing cars come out of the lot and hit each other and then go back into their respective parking places. No car had a window left in it. The buildiing had water on the floor even though it was almost devoid of windows.

I immediately started helping on the switchboard which was lighting up from long distance calls. The London Times, The New York Times, Kansas City Star, Washington Post--big newspapers that did not usually call Topeka. Since Stauffer owned both WIBW and the newspaper, we had a direct line between the two. At one point in the evening, Bill Kurtis called over on the direct line to ask if we were able to get through to people in the city because WIBW lines were not getting through to several attempted numbers. I told Bill we could not call locally, but I was getting long distance calls coming in from all over the United States and even London and I figured that if we could get out over our Kansas City WATS line, then maybe he could call back in the city via that long distance line, but I would have to check the procedure out and check with Mr. Oscar Stauffer, publisher, to see if it was okay to do that. I tried out the procedure, found it worked, called Oscar Stauffer who said he would absolutely approve and asked my name, and then called Bill Curtis. I helped him call several
places that night and the next day. I worked most of the next 36
hours at the newspaper switchboard, taking only a four-hour break during which I went into the area where the papers were made ready for delivery and slept on a pile of papers. It was a most exciting time for all of us at the newspaper, but I will always feel a little like I helped Bill Kurtis get the information he needed to do his work and become famous overnight. He is a wonderful guy who was so polite even during the most urgent periods. I also earned a 10 cent an hour raise which put my hourly wage up to $1.10 per hour."

-- Georgia Deatrick



"On June 8th 1966, I was 9 years old living at 2915 SW Burnett Road. My parents and some of my siblings were at home when the tornado came. My brother was at his friend's house (the Clarks) and they lived across the street from what is now the Amaco(BP gas station) on Gage. They had no basement and the family and my brother tried to run to the neighbors house that had a basement. They all made it except the grandma. The vacuum of the tornado sucked the door shut and she laid on the ground and held on to the grass. The tornado picked her up and
threw her into a ditch next to Gage Street. Although she was hurt with broken ribs and other injuries, she did live, but a few years later I believe the tornado's injuries took her. My brother and the rest lay under a pool table and had the debris all over them. Can you imagine my Dada looking up the street to see where his son was. I think he thought he was looking for a dead or injured son...after realizing my brother was alive, my father walked over live electrical wires to find me. I was at 28th and Gage, by the new Walgreens at 29th and Gage. I watched the tornado come down the mound while at my friend's house. With no basement to go to, her mother ran us to the bedroom with glass breaking all around us and 2 by 4s coming through the roof. She shoved
me under her one arm and my friend under her other arm with the strong wind roaring--the sound so loud all you could do was scream. My friend's mother just yelled aloud, DEAR GOD PLEASE DONT HURT MY BABIES. That is when the noise grew weaker and we came out to see all the destruction. My dad came to get me and kept telling me to be careful not to step on powerlines as he walked me home. Going back home was a shock for a 9-year-old to see I had few neighbors--most of the houses were gone. Even today I still have dreams of the tornado. I knew so many people affected and was affected myself. I still to this day at the age of 49 keep an eye on the sky and am aware how bad things can really get in a storm."

-- Denise (Agnew) Wunder




"My father owned Scott Glass at the time and was on the disaster
committee for Topeka not only during the Tornado, but also during the '51 Flood. Besides having personal memories of that day, I grew up with the photos that my father had obtained of the tornado coming into the city (both slides and 8 x 10s). We were sitting down to dinner as were many other families in Topeka. My oldest sister was getting ready to leave the house to go to some function, but stayed because the sirens went off. The sky was dark toward Burnett's Mound, but was clear over our house, which is located by Gage Park.

After the Tornado hit, my father was called upon to help board up
windows and to help where he could. My oldest sister was also helping him. I know that my mother Vera Scott has more detailed memories of what all Dad did as well as my sisters would have more memories of what all happend.

Years later, Karla (Wright) Volpert and I became good friends and we have talked about how she was affected by the tornado.

During the time of the tornado, my father and mother had become good friends with Bill Kurtis. I know that this is sounding a bit disconnected, but how my father helped with the tornado and his being on the disaster committee made me grow up with not only a respect of the weather, but also an avid weather watcher and tornado spotter. This is probably why as a social worker I have become involved with the disaster team with the Red Cross.

People who have not been through the tornado that Topekans experienced or other Tornados do not understand the fear and excitement that goes through you. I know that the Topeka tornado has changed Topeka in deep ways to make all of us who have been through it more of a community and closer. I know that because of going through the tornado, I have more respect for weather watches and warnings when they are issued, which is the case of most people who have gone through the '66 tornado."

-- Randy Scott



"We lived on Clay St., across the street from Central Park, in '66.
I'd celebrated my fifth birthday a week and a half before, and we'd just set up the projector and screen to watch home movies of my birthday when the sirens went off. We'd been hustled down to the basement before for tornado warnings, but something about this one felt different. To this day I have no memory of the sound (which must have been incredibly frightening to hear), but I vividly remember looking out the little window up near the ceiling of the basement and seeing dead leaves and debris whirling around.

My dad later spoke of going upstairs and seeing the tornado retreating into the distance (something the rest of the family did not see, as we stayed in the basement until he checked to make sure it was safe to come up). I remember coming upstairs and seeing the big picture window in the living room completely broken. The radio was telling us not to go outside because of stray winds and debris, but the National Guard was going around knocking on doors telling people they needed to evacuate because there were gas leaks. A big tree had fallen across our front porch and was blocking the front door, so we had to climb
out through the broken picture window. Since our car was too damaged to drive, a neighbor gave us a ride to a car-rental agency, where my parents rented a car and drove us to Kansas City, where my grandparents lived; my sister and I stayed there for some days while my parents made the trip back to Topeka each day to clean up and salvage our belongings and find a new place for us to live.

We were so very lucky; we didn't lose that many of our belongings (though quite a bit of what we had was spattered with mud) and our only scars were psychological. I've had tornado nightmares all my life, though forty years later they are less frightening than they used to be.

Many years after the tornado, we found home video footage of the damage, which my dad had taken in the days immediately following -- documenting our losses for insurance purposes, I guess. The trees in Central Park were completely devastated, and workers were making great piles of limbs and burning them. It looked like a war had happened. Seeing that footage for the first time, as an adult so many years later, was a shock (remember my sister and I stayed in KC in the days following, so we never saw the worst of the devastation first-hand). I don't think I understood how particularly monstrous "my" tornado had been until many years after the fact; even now, reading others'
accounts and looking at photos, I am just astounded."

-- Anne Haines



I was 9 and lived in S.W. Topeka when the tornado hit. I was at swim practice at the (then new) Westview CC at 21st & Auburn Road, and coach Chet Laney sent everyone home early due to the threatening skies.

A friend's mother drove me, my younger brother, and her two sons home. We crossed the I-470 & Gage overpass 10 minutes ahead of the tornado. The sirens sounded as we got to our house (1626 Knollwood) and we joined the rest of the family in the basement. We ate dinner under the ping pong table, the power went out, and we soon heard the storm passing (approx. half a mile to the west). After about 15 minutes, our parents let us go outside; there was debris everywhere. My friend up the street found an LP record in his yard without a sleeve or a scratch. There were stories of amazing oddities like that for many years.

We had many friends who had damage to their homes or vehicles, but thanks to the early warnings, deaths were far fewer than the
devastation would indicate. It was and always will be a significant
moment in my life."

-- Chuck Wagstaff



"I had returned to Topeka, the town where I was born and lived until I was married, when my husband was sent to Viet Nam in the late summer of 1965. I lived in an apartment at the foot of Burnett’s Mound. My parents, Karl & Gladys Kennedy, lived in an apartment in the complex next to mine. Our first child, Stacia, was born November 22, 1965. Then January 12, 1966 my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. On June 8, 1966 my mother and I made plans to have dinner with Jean Stitcher and her daughter Janie Stitcher Davis. Jean’s son had been killed in Viet Nam in December of 1965. We had all gathered at my mother’s apartment on June 8th. A baby sitter was there to take care of Stacia.

It was raining so hard, we waited and we talked about not going out. Janie said she heard a siren, the rest of us listened but could not hear one. My mother opened the door to listen and sure enough the sirens were sounding. We turned on the television and listened to the weather report. We decide it sounded serious enough that we should go to shelter. In the rear of the apartment complex was a storage building with a basement. About 50 of us gathered there. People said, “Here it comes.” They could hear a noise like a freight train. I could not hear the noise but it felt like my head was going to explode. I remember wrapping my body around my baby trying to protect her (I later learned I was standing directly below the hot water storage for the whole complex).

When the tornado passed, the man who was the builder of the apartments announced the building had been damaged and we must evacuate. I was at the rear of the room so it took awhile for everyone to get out. No one panicked and we left in an orderly fashion. I could hear the people ahead of me exclaim that the cars were destroyed. Little did we realize how serious it was. The backside of the apartments did not look badly damaged. As we walked around the corner though, I felt like I walked into a scene from WW2. The apartment complex next to ours looked like a pile of bricks. Someone had a radio and it was announced another tornado was spotted and to take cover. We were in a dilemma, do we go back into a damaged building or stay out in the open. I decided to go back into the building. That tornado never
materialized!

Our party and some other friends gathered in one of the apartments that had not been badly damaged. It was decided that Janie and I, along with Stacia, would try to find a car and contact my sister-in-law, Mary Kennedy. My brother, Mike Kennedy, was out of town on business and Mother knew Mary would be worried. Mother and Jean would stay at the site. As we walked down Gage Blvd., I felt like a refugee that you saw in war torn countries. We had all been in the rain and looked pretty tattered. Janie must of said my name because I heard a man yelling, “Trish, Trish where is Trish?” Lawyer Dave Fisher, a father of one of my good friends and a friend of our family grabbed my arm. He had heard on the news that our apartments had been destroyed and was sure we were probably dead. But, he had come to look for us. I told him of our plans to find Mary. He asked where my mother was and left to get her. Janie and I found a car and drove to my brother’s house out in the country.

There was no one at his house so we returned to town and went to my sister-in-law’s best friend’s house. Mary had taken her two children there. When the storm had moved through, her electricity had gone out so she had packed her two children, age 2 and 3, and had come to my mother’s apartment to spend the night. She arrived just minutes after the tornado had hit. She frantically looked for us and asked everyone, “had they seen us?” Some one had told her as they ran by, “Well, she is OK.” Mary thought, from that comment, that my mother was dead. She had taken her children to her friends and went to the hospitals searching for us. I decided to stay at the friend’s house until Mary returned. I was trying to make a phone call but the line was dead. I was holding the phone to my ear and without it ringing, I heard someone on the other end. It was Mary. I said, “Mary, we are all fine!” She said “Don’t leave there until I get there. I will not believe you are alive until I can see you.” I think it was much harder for Mary, than for us who had gone through the tornado. My brother, who was in Wichita, had heard about the tornado and that our apartments were destroyed. He started speeding home on the turnpike. He said a highway patrolman started chasing him but he kept going. When the patrol car got close enough to see his
license plates and realized where he was from, he stopped pursuing him.

Everyone told me I should ask for an emergency leave from Viet Nam for my husband, Earl. The next morning Stacia and I went to the Red Cross. I was concerned if I requested Earl to come home and he was not issued the emergency leave, that he would be so worried. I stressed to the Red Cross to make sure he knew we were OK. I found out later the telegram they sent him said, “Wife and baby in tornado but all are doing well now.” To me and to Earl it sounded like we had been hurt but we were going to survive. They told me to go home and wait and call them each day to see if the leave was approved.

The next day we were at the apartments trying to salvage whatever we could. Most of my things, with the exception of my car, were in fairly good shape. I was on the first floor and my apartment was in tact, but the one above me was gone. My mother’s was totally destroyed. When I saw the broken crib that had been in my Mom’s apartment, I cried. Had we gone to dinner as planned, Stacia would have been in that crib and the baby sitter probably would not have heard the sirens. I don’t think she would have survived. Two people across the street were killed.

The Air Force had a medical team of doctors at the apartment complex. They were looking for bodies and injured people. My brother explained to the Air Force team that my husband was in the Army in Viet Nam. So, when they were not needed, they helped me pack my things. The Colonel of the team told me I should not have to face this alone and when he got back to the Forbes Air force Base, he was calling directly to Viet Nam to my husband’s unit and requesting an emergency leave. The next day he called my brother’s home and said that Earl’s unit was
preparing for a hugh battle and they could not get him out. He
explained the leave had been approved but it would be several week before he could come because of the fierce fighting.

When my Mom heard the news, she immediately called Senator Frank Carlson’s office. Senator Carlson personally knew Earl, as they were both from Concordia, KS. Earl mowed the Senator’s yard as a boy. Senator Carlson had given Earl his West Point appointment. Senator Carlson told my Mom, “Don’t worry, I will get that boy home.” Saturday Morning Senator Carlson called and told me, “I am so sorry, I cannot get that boy home. He is in the middle of a fierce battle. As soon as it is over, we will get him home.” Of course, none of us felt very comfortable knowing where Earl was. That night we were all at my brother’s home. I was dressed for bed in a short nightgown. The phone rang, my brother answered it and said, “WHERE ARE YOU?” He turned and gave the phone to me saying, “It is Earl!”

Everyone was so excited and started yelling that I couldn’t hear him. Finally I was able to hear and he told me he was at the Topeka Airport. Stunned, I told him I would be right there to get him. My brother handed me his keys, I handed them back to him and told him I was too excited to drive, he would have to drive me. Mike sped me through Topeka. I had to tell him to slow down, that if the police stopped us, they would never believe that I was his sister, as I was still in my shorty nightgown. Mike pulled up to the curb at the airport; I jumped out of the car excitedly and raced inside. I grabbed the first man I saw in uniform and fortunately it was Earl. We have laughed many times about this over the years. How many men coming home from Viet Nam have had a wife meet them at the airport in a nightgown? Earl had received the first emergency leave request from the Red Cross just as he was going to battle. He was able to leave but had to hitchhike from airplane to airplane in Viet Nam until he was finally able to get out of the country. Because he was due to getting out of the army that summer, he did not have to return to Viet Nam. I feel the tornado saved his life.

A year later to the day (a Wednesday), not the date, another tornado warning was issued and we were told it was taking the same path. My mother, Stacia, and our 2 week-old daughter Jana, and I were on the road returning from Lincoln, Nebraska. Earl, I and now our two daughters, were in the process of moving back to Topeka from Lincoln. We went back to the same shelter, along with about 50 others that had been in the first tornado. With so many people crammed into the shelter and the tension was very HIGH, we were afraid there would not be enough oxygen for a two-week old baby. My mother kept taking Jana to the door so she could get fresh air. That tornado never materialized, but the all-clear was not sounded for several hours.

For several years after the tornado, if the wind started blowing hard, I took the children and went to the basement. Now, I just listen to the weather reports. We currently live out in the country where there are no sirens. One of the first things we bought, though, was a weather alert radio.

Earl & I, along with our youngest grandson, will return to Topeka on June 8, 2006. We are meeting friends to pray in Topeka. We plan to go on top of Burnett’s Mound to give THANKS to the Lord for life, for these 40 years and for the next generation. We, too, will climb the 296 steps to the top of the State Capitol Building. Not only will we remember the 40th anniversary but we will celebrate Earl’s 65th birthday. Yes, the tornado happened on his 25th birthday!"

-- Trish Kennedy Pickard



"My sister, Irene, and her boyfriend, Greg Townsend, were at our house with his friend Dave Dawson who were going to double date with my girlfriend, Leah Myers when everything began to go wild. I remember going upstairs and taking my sister's gifts from her boyfriend and putting them in drawers for safekeeping. My dad was in Kansas City & called home. My mom didn't want to talk because the tornado was getting closer. My sister, Irene, Greg, Dave & Leah were trying to pursuade my mom to let them leave for thier double date but she would not hear of it. I remember hearing a sound similar to a train as I was going to the basement. We had two dogs, one of which was hiding upstairs under my parents bed (unknown to us at the time) and the other one was in my lap next to my little sister Helen. My brother Jay, and other sister Anne and Mom stayed down until Mom said it was okay to go out. I remember praying outloud as the radio was broadcasting. From the basement, we could see red dust from the
houses next to us because their chimney had crashed.

After it stopped, we went upstaris and found Dave's VW bug that was parked on the street was now sitting in the front yard next to the front porch that was dilapidated. Most of our windows were broken, the garage was gone, some of the curtains in the family room were tied in knots around the curtain rods, and when we pulled back our covers for sleep that night, crushed glass shone on the sheets apparently from the force of the winds blew the glass dust through the bedspreads. My dad drove to Topeka and the National Guards were not allowing anyone in the area so my dad drove his Renault up on the sidewalks and wherever he could to get home to us. All the houses on the corners were manned with men from the National Guard & they went to all the homes & instructed us to put a white flag outside to indicate we were OK. For weeks we bathed by candle light, ate from the Red Cross
trucks, went to sleep and woke up to the sound of chainsaws buzzing. For weeks we did not have phone service and we walked two blocks down to use the phone of Richard Head when needed (oddly enough when our phone service was restored, his was out and he came to our house). For weeks we picked up glass out of our yard and drove cars without windshields, our faces drawing back from the force of wind. All the neighbors helped one another but it was a sorry sight for some time."


-- Dorothy J. Herzog



"I lived in an 8-plex on 29th Street Terrace about a block from 29th and Gage. The day before the tornado I remember complaining to the guy who mowed the vacant lot next to my apartment that he should clean up all the trash left from the mowing. He said, "Aw, a good south wind will blow it away." The tornado struck the next day. My apartment was leveled."

-- Roy Miller




"I was not in the tornado path but had two summer school classes to finish. I could not graduate without them. Worried sick about
whether or not I would be able to get my BA degree, it was a great relief when Washburn announced that summer school classes would be held at Topeka West High School.

A day after the storm, my English Professor called me to see if she could borrow my class notes because she said her office was full of glass. She knew I typed up handwritten notes after each class! However, for me the real lesson demonstrated here was that a person can learn anywhere with the right professor, and the walls of the classroom are not that important!"

-- Celia Eddy



"My parents met while attending Washburn; my dad got his law degree in 1949. We lived in Topeka briefly when I was very young, but moved to Kansas City. Our family did love to visit Topeka, and especially Washburn campus. I still remember the huge beautiful trees.

On June 8, 1966, I was 11. Around noon that day my family headed west from KC, driving on I-70 toward a vacation in Colorado. We stopped in Topeka for lunch, and debated whether to spend some time in town to visit the Washburn campus. My parents decided we needed to get going on to Hays. We could visit campus another time.

As we drove west on I-70, the skies grew darker, greener, and more ominous, as strange-looking clouds began roiling close to the ground. Somewhere between Manhattan and Hays we had to pull over under an overpass to wait out the storm: blinding sheets of rain, whipping wind, hammering hailstones. Although we weren't in the path of a tornado, it was pretty scary.

When we turned on the TV in our Hays hotel room, we were shocked and devastated at what we heard and saw of Topeka as news of the tornado was reported.

I later attended Washburn, where I met my first husband. On June 8, 1996, he was 12, living just NE of Burnett's Mound in a new subdivision. The family was just sitting down to dinner when his father happened to look out the window toward the Mound. He yelled something, and each parent grabbed a child and ran, diving into a car in the garage because they had no basement. No sooner did they get the car doors closed when the tornado hit. He remembered that it was quite a ride. When they got out of the car they were surrounded by blocks of tangled debris and heaps of rubble."

-- Gretchen Ross Hill



On June 8, 1966 at about 7:20 pm, our phones went dead, the wind picked up, and we knew what was happening, as both my wife and I were raised in and around Topeka, so we knew we had a tornado. At the time of the tornado, we lived in the 3300 block of Watson, near the Interstate. It has been said that a tornado would never touch down in Topeka because of Burnett's Mound...but they were wrong. It touched down back behind Burnett's Mound, traveled over it and made it's deadly path through Topeka and beyond.

So what was I doing? I went out in our drive in front of the house,
and took pictures of the storm to our North.

Needless to say, my wife was about crazy at what I was doing. I knew we were safe.

We tried to drive to her parent's house on Sena Drive and to my
parent's house on E. 13th St. The traffic was so terrible, we went
back home, and I later was able to get to my parent's house. It had sustained minimal damage to their house which faced North, but the houses on the other side, facing South, were damaged.

We were in process of moving from Topeka to Ohio where I had accepted a teaching position.

I still have slides of that event."

-- Tom McPeak


The stories and views expressed on this website are solely those of the individuals providing them and do not reflect the views or opinions of KTWU TV or Washburn University.




 

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