Russiaville church

Former Russiaville resident watched as damaged house was razed

From the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado articles series
  • 3 min to read

Susan Duncan, whose house in Russiaville was destroyed that day, also recalls the storm vividly.

Duncan, who now lives in Indianapolis, said she was 17 that spring and was a junior at Western High School.

“What I remember about that part of the day was the bright, clear skies and the wind," said Duncan. “It was strong and I think I recall hearing we might have storms, but thought little of it.”

That Sunday she said was spent with family in Kokomo.

“My stepsister and her husband had driven down from Chicago and on the way to her brother's house. We picked up my 2-year-old niece so she could go with us. After a long, full day, we left for home. We were trying to decide if we should take my niece home with us, or drop her off at her house. The choice we made literally saved our lives. I firmly believe that. Those 10 to 15 minutes kept us from being right in the middle of Russiaville as the storm was hitting.

"My brother-in-law was driving, with my step-sister and step-father in the front seat; mom and I were the back. We all noticed the black clouds ahead, and the lightening was horrible and the sky had that eerie cast you hear about. Finally, Tom said, ‘That sure could be a tornado,’ and I asked, ‘Where?’ and about that time he yelled that it was and we had to get out of there now. He turned the car around and headed back east on Indiana 26.


"Boards and debris were flying out of the funnel, which was so wide at the base it didn’t even look like the typical rope form. I was so scared that the hair literally stood up on the back of my neck."


"Mom and I watched it out the rear window and once it passed more northeast, we turned around and parked at the side of the road. Boards and debris were flying out of the funnel, which was so wide at the base it didn’t even look like the typical rope form. I was so scared that the hair literally stood up on the back of my neck. I refused to watch anymore and lay with my head on mom's lap. A while later, it had moved on, and Tom started driving again.

"Even though the funnel was a good way away from us, it still lifted the car up — did not spin us, just lifted it up — and then set it back down. I think we all laughed, tension release I guess.”

Driving through town seeing the aftermath was memorable, she said.

“People were coming out of their homes looking stunned. Tom got out of the car to see what he could do to help and my step-sister took the wheel of the car and we drove for what seemed like hours. Every road we went down was blocked with either a house, barn or tree. Finally we got back to town and my step-dad walked over to our house. When he came back, he had bad news. Our elderly neighbors were missing, which upset me since I thought of them as grandparents.

"He told us Ralph and Virginia Ratcliff had been killed. Mom started crying and we were all in shock. I learned later that Ralph was a distant cousin of mine.

“Later Tom came in and said he had never seen anything like it. His head went down and he said he found a little boy deceased and had picked up and carried him to others. We never talked about it or asked questions."

The following days, she said, were spent trying to salvage anything, find a place to live and so on.

“I had not seen my best friend for a week and we were both so worried about the other. When we finally got together all we did was hug and cry.

“While our house was still 3/4 up, the cement block garage my dad had built in the early '50s was all gone. Our car and my step-dad's truck were there, but as you can imagine, a total loss, as was the house.

"I remember the last day the house stood. I helped mom look one last time for things in the rubble, and I was thrilled to find the ruby ring my dad had given mom before she got her diamond engagement ring. Giving it to her that day brought me much joy, and she cried all over again.

"Watching the house you were raised in, your dad was raised in, that held so many memories bulldozed down and then burned — well, there are no words. I stood there and held mom's hand and we cried. Mom sold the land to the Baptist church and they leveled the hill to street level and built their parsonage. The only thing left of that time is the concrete slab where the big garage stood.

"We saved some things and lost others. However, they were just things. We were safe and that is all that mattered. When I drive through Russiaville, I imagine it as it was when I was growing up,” she said.


"It's not the buildings that make a town, a community. It is the people who live there. Many good people still call it home, just as my heart always will."


“However if I learned anything since then it is this: it's not the buildings that make a town, a community. It is the people who live there. Many good people still call it home, just as my heart always will."

Mike Fletcher can be reached at 765-454-8565 or by email at mike.fletcher@kokomotribune.com

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