By Zach Arbogast
A bus full of high school students from Thome School in Rock Falls rolled into Oregon last week to help a pair of neighbors whose farms were in the path of the Feb. 28 tornado.
The twister tore through the Janssen and Macauley farms at 4779 and 4778 S. Daysville Rd., respectively, around 5 p.m., causing several hundred thousand dollars in damage.
“This place looked like a war zone,” said Sean Janssen, 49.
Troops in the form of 20 high school students, two teachers, a teacher’s aide, a social worker, and a parent arrived shortly after 9 a.m. March 3 to help.
Before the morning was over, they would haul away more than 100 buckets of debris.
The debris that covered the Janssens’ 10 and a half acres included the Macauleys’ destroyed machine shed and garage, shards of glass from several windows, tin shingles, and fallen limbs and splinters from more than 50 wind-decimated trees.
Thanks to the direction of the EF1 twister, the Macauleys did not have nearly as much in the way of debris.
“We went ahead and gave most of it to our neighbors,” joked Roger Macauley, 74.
Jodi Orcutt, Janssen’s cousin and a teacher with Bi-County Special Education Cooperative, which oversees Thome, saw pictures on Facebook of the damage.
“We just started learning about tornadoes in school this week,” said Orcutt, 46. “We learned about tornado safety, held tornado drills, and after seeing the pictures, we thought this would be a great opportunity for the students to see what damage tornadoes leave behind in person.”
Thome is a school for kids with issues that make it difficult to learn in a mainstream classroom.
Richard Melcher, a high school teacher at Thome, said that the trip filled his students with a sense of compassion.
“These kids are coming from backgrounds filled with emotional challenges, and they’re still coming together to serve others,” said Melcher, 47. “There’s strength in numbers, and seeing them band together as a team is an incredible feeling.”
The students themselves echoed the sentiments shared by their teachers.
Madison Manning, a 17 year-old senior, said being able to serve people who truly need help humbled her, and taught her not to take what she has for granted.
Sophomore Jared Wilson reflected on how fragile everything seems when natural disaster strikes.
“We’re actually seeing how quickly something can be taken away; this really creates a sense of value,” said Wilson, 16.
How quickly, indeed; Janssen said the entire ordeal lasted no more than a couple of minutes.
“It’s like they always say; you hear the sound of a train coming through, and that means it’s already too late,” Janssen said. “It couldn’t have lasted more than two minutes, but it was the scariest two minutes imaginable.”
Both Janssen and Macauley were thankful for the help and support they’ve received from the community, including food, water, and emotional support.
“I’ve never been on this end of the charity train before,” Janssen said. “It’s going to take me some time to make out a list of everyone who’s helped us. It’s humbling.”
“My garage has been full, lately, of friends, relatives, and helpers from around the community. It’s unreal; I nearly cry thinking about it, and I don’t ever cry,” he said.