Last week the devastating tornados in northeast Nebraska changed many lives forever. Fortunately, volunteers came from near and far to help the little town of Pilger. Unfortunately, the needs of the rural community surrounding Pilger were not as widely known. These farmers and ranchers not only lost their homes, but also their livestock facilities, farmsteads and crops.
A group of unique individuals decided to come together to help these farm and ranch families. Through Facebook, radio and personal conversations, this group of volunteers came together for a common cause, to help their neighbors.
We met as strangers that morning, caravanned seven miles to Wayne County along the storm’s path, and found three families we could assist. Molly Flodman and her two sons, Tucker and Talon and friend, Bailey drove from Eagle Nebraska to join the team. Anne Doerr and Brooke Jindra traveled from Clarkson to join also. From Butler County several families and friends rounded out the team. Kent Ketteler and son Heath, friends Matthew Kindler, Jacob Kadlec and Jared Cech. Don Kobza from Valparasio was joined by his nephew, Matthew Nedrow, from Arizona. Reynold Kobza brought daughters Anna and Veronica, and son Brett. Last but not least, John and Kim Kobza and children, Jenna and James. James Buresh who works for the Kobza’s joined us as well. The Kobza family brought with them a dump truck, 3 gators with tipping buckets, and a telehandler for the big jobs.
Our first stop was the Styskal acerage, where farm buildings and large debris were scattered throughout the place. John Kobza, with his telehandler, worked there for most of the day. The rest of the caravan went north three miles to help the Aaron and Terri Bierman family and the Scott Buhrman family.
As we traveled the tornado path we were amazed at the destruction of the storm. Farmsteads were horribly mangled or completely gone. In the direct path, all vegetation was reduced to little stubs and bare earth. Debris was littered everywhere. When arriving at the Biermans, Terri explained how they managed the day of the tornadoes, “ We first checked on family and loved ones to make sure everyone was alright. Then, like all farmers, we took care of our livestock. Neighbors helped find missing animals and helped take live animals to facilities that could take care of them. Unfortunately, our facilities were a total loss including both the homes, the original homestead and the home we lived in. Next, we look to the crops. It will be the only income left. Finally, we will concentrate on rebuilding our homes.” Aaron kept thanking us for being willing to help. We were all in awe of these farmers/ranchers who facing such great challenges were so resilient.
(Left: The only piece left of the Bierman home is the foundation.)
(Right: What is left of the original Bierman Homestead)
Our team walked fields, each person taking 10 feet with a gator to collect the debris. We first thought this wouldn’t be too hard, as it didn’t look like there was a lot of debris. We soon realized that was not the case and we collected almost 4 large dump truck loads from one field. Boards with nails, large and small pieces of tin, limbs and unknown material were plentiful. We found a tank that was in the field that the guys estimated to be a 2,500-3,000 gallon tank, 6’high by 10’ diameter made of ¼ inch steel walls. Aaron had no idea where it came from, as it was not his. The tank was crumpled up like an aluminum can. There were pieces torn out of that tank that were 100 yards away that weighed at least 50 pounds.
Not only were there volunteers to help clean up but there was also a great support system for those volunteers. Amy, a close friend of Terri’s, kept us supplied with snacks all morning and BPI, Beef Products Incorporated, was in the area grilling hamburgers for all of the volunteers. Molly brought with her five 5-gallon buckets that were extremely helpful during the cleanup and became our seats during the lunch break.
Next we moved on to the Scott Buhrman fields. Here again, we collected debris, trying to clear the fields so that it could either be replanted or harvested in the future. We then worked on a field of grass hay and found that it caught more than its fair share of pieces. We found large holes and indentations in the ground caused by the storm and marveled at the power of the ferocious tornadoes.
We worked hard that day, sweated profusely and got to know one another. We will always be connected with our team members and the farmers we were able to help. Scott Buhrman said, “ We are so thankful for your help and I am impressed others want to work this hard for us, people they don’t even know. It was truly a choice.”
Yes, lives were changed last week. My dad always said that something good always comes out of something really bad. I would say the opportunity to volunteer together was well worth the sweat and sore muscles and truly changed our lives for the better.
I know there are still many people who need our help in rural Northeast Nebraska. I encourage you to make the sacrifice to volunteer; you never know how your opportunity will end. I can assure you it will be good!