Community encourages strength for future

By Anna Carrera

Published 11/25 2013 05:16PM

Updated 11/12 2014 03:43PM

OGDEN -- While the Gifford community works to get back to normal, others around Champaign County say they feel their pain, literally. In April 1996, 13 people were hurt when the village was hit by a tornado. Three churches, dozens of homes and the grade school were all destroyed. More than 200 other buildings were damaged. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera went to see what it's like today.

Both Ogden and Gifford are home to less than 1,000 people, a handful of businesses plus churches and a grade school. So, in Ogden say they hope those in Gifford will feel their same strength as they move forward.

When a tornado ripped through Ogden 17 years ago, not a building in town was left untouched. Kelli Maxwell was six weeks away from wrapping up her first year teaching at South Elementary. But, a tornado was not in the lesson plan.

"It took the ceiling and just peeled it and laid it on top of the desks," said Maxwell. "We had four hours to get into our room and get anything we wanted for the rest of the school year and they'd move it over there."

"There" was St. Joseph-Ogden High School. Maxwell and her 5th grade students had to squeeze into space in the old gym.

"This curtain of the stage was the back of our room," said Maxwell. "We had no books. It was a long six weeks."

Fellow South teacher, Darci Wilson, was a junior at SJO then.

"There were lots more children in the high school with us," said Wilson. "A lot of giggling, talking. Just a lot of commotion going on. But you could tell they were having fun in that environment that had been set for them."

Learning to look on the bright side was just one of the lessons learned.

"Listen to sirens and stay away from skylights," said Maxwell. "And get back to normal as soon as possible."

Maxwell says the students came away with much more.

"There was a pretty special bond with those kids, getting through all that together," said Maxwell. 

Even though the '96 tornado was devastating, Maxwell says some good came out of it. The school got new windows, floors and chalkboards and is a lot safer now in case it ever happens again.

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