Always ‘Hub Strong’

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History has recorded the 2015 Rochelle/Fairdale tornado as an extremely violent and long-lived tornado that tore through the communities near Rochelle and Fairdale throughout the evening hours of April 9, 2015. 

Part of a larger severe weather event that impacted the Central United States, the tornado first touched down in Lee County at 6:39 p.m., it progressed through the counties of Ogle, DeKalb, and Boone before finally dissipating at 7:20 p.m. CDT. 

Along the tornado’s 30.14 mile path, numerous structures were heavily damaged or destroyed, especially in the small town of Fairdale where two fatalities and 11 injuries were recorded. A few well-constructed homes were swept completely away, indicative of peak winds near 200 mph, the upper bounds of an EF-4 tornado. In the aftermath of the event, hundreds of citizens assisted in cleanup and recovery efforts. 

One of the hardest hit neighborhoods in Rochelle was that of Ogle County Sheriff Brian Van Vickle who, like several, lost his home to the powerful storm. And just like any other time when people are in need, residents came together to help those who needed help the most.

“My most vivid memory of April 9 isn’t actually from the 9th but Friday the 10th when family, friends and complete strangers come to help us,” Van Vickle said. “My family has lived in this community for generations and it is a great place to live day in and day out. But in the wake of that evening it was much more then supporting a school fundraiser or buying Girl Scout cookies. It truly showed who we are and what we stand for. I am proud of the day after.”

Another family directly effected in that same neighborhood was Emily and John Whitaker.

“April 9th, 2015 was the most traumatic day of my life. It didn’t start out that way. It started out a day just like any other,” Emily Whitaker said. “I remember reading some Facebook posts about how the weather was supposed to be unpredictable that day. There was a chance of severe weather. Maybe a tornado.”

At the time, Whitaker was questioning humanity; however, in the aftermath of April 9 her perspective changed.

“One thing that had already been destroyed by that day was my faith in humanity. Honestly, I had been feeling very ... alone, and adrift. I didn’t see a lot of “good” left in people all the time. Sometimes you see the worst in people, and it’s really hard to see the good anymore, when you see so much bad all the time. But then…All of you. It was all of you,” she said in a Facebook post just this past April 9 when recalling the tornado.

For the Hintzsche family of Lindenwood, the events following the April 9, 2015 tornado have changed their perspective on life as well.

“[That experience taught us] that there are really good people in this world. The kindness shown to our family was something we will never forget,” Lauren Hintzsche said. “We are seeing the same thing today during the pandemic. There is genuine kindness in the world. Sometimes it takes a life changing event to bring it to the forefront. We have developed a ‘life is short... buy the tickets mentality.’ We also realize how important philanthropy is as we were the recipient of others’ generosity.”  

Many that were impacted directly by the tornado moved forward with the same mentality.

“Like many people I knew almost everyone effected by the storm. While we were directly impacted so were many other people yet the community unselfishly gave back,” Van Vickle said. “That is one thing that stands out even the little things matter. So I have tried to do that for others moving forward. Making the biggest impact even with the smallest of things.”

“Our gratefulness to all of you is unending. You restored our faith in humanity, and gave us the strength to persevere even on days when we did not think we had the strength. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts,” Whitaker said.

Van Vickle also took away information from the event that benefits the rest of the county as well.

“I have gleaned a very unique perspective being personally effected while continuing to serve the citizens of Ogle County. This firsthand knowledge has pushed me to not only continue gaining knowledge based on national best practices but sharing this information when others need it most,” he said.

*Part of this story was taken from the April 9, 2020 Rochelle Township High School announcements by Vicki Snyder-Chura.