Tom Kacich: 'Are you all thankful?'
The problem with being the mayor of a small town in a big disaster is that the two usually converge.
Consider Derald Ackerman, the mayor — OK, his real title is village president — of tornado-raked Gifford.
Sunday's twister not only leveled about a quarter of his town, but it also lightly damaged his home and heavily damaged his farm outside of town.
Oh, and it almost killed him.
"I was at home when it happened. It blew a window right by me, missed me by that far," Ackerman said, holding his hands a foot or so apart. "It was a glass window about 6 foot tall and 3 foot wide. Blew by me and landed on the living room floor and it never broke.
"Just went zoom. It just missed me. And about 30 seconds after the storm was gone I picked it up and got it all back in that hole in the wall. It was a miracle."
There's that word again.
Ackerman, who has been village president for three years, spoke at a community meeting Monday night at nearby Gordyville, a big hall about a mile west of Gifford where there was power and heat and water, everything that most of Gifford lacked.
"I walked into that meeting and I said, 'You know, I'm thankful I'm here. Are you all thankful?' And the whole place just went up. It was unreal."
His home on the south side of Gifford — the tornado's path was mostly through the middle — had some roof damage. And he lost some trees.
"I can't complain," he said.
His farm southwest of town was worse off.
"I found one of my grain bins yesterday that was a half-mile from where it had been sitting," he said of the farm where his son lives. "And I lost a fourth of the roof of one of my big sheds. And we've got a lot of debris out in the fields that's going to have to be picked up. And there's trees down and damage on the house."
As he moved about town watching an amazing damage-cleanup process, Ackerman was waiting for an insurance adjuster to show up at his farm.
"Getting all this back in order" is going to take up a lot of his time, Ackerman said. "It's going to take a lot of insurance adjusters getting in here. That's what most people are waiting on now because in a lot of cases they can't do anything until the adjuster gets finished. Yeah, it's going to be different for a while."
Brian Baxter, a village trustee in Gifford for less than a year, also has been torn between his familial duties and his official responsibilities.
"We lost some windows in the back of the house and lost some trees," he said. "But the roof stayed on and we're fine compared to some other folks in town. We got the gas turned back on and we got a generator so the house is about 15 degrees warmer than it was when I got in here this morning."
Baxter said that once Sunday's storm had passed and he and his wife had checked on their own safety and their home's condition, he began looking around town.
"My wife stayed home and did the cleanup and we actually went house to house to see if people were safe," Baxter said. "As a village trustee my responsibilities are the village facilities like the village building and the park and pavilion and storage shed and the village vehicles, so I've been busy with that too."
Baxter, who works at campus recreation at the University of Illinois, took the week off "because I figured we're going to be pretty busy in town."
Stacy Severins, another trustee, said he had some shingles blown off his roof "but there's really nothing wrong with our house. We're very fortunate."
But perhaps there's no one more fortunate in all of storm-wracked Gifford than Heather and Kurtis Johnson.
"My wife, who is seven months pregnant, was in the house" crouched down in a bathtub, recounted Kurtis Johnson, who was on the other side of town Sunday afternoon.
The tornado hit and apparently lifted the house off its foundation. The house is now far off its foundation, about 30 feet from where it once was, wedged up against a tree.
"Look at those bushes," Johnson said, pointing to rose bushes that used to be in front of the house and are now behind it. "Those bushes look pretty good. They're not damaged or anything. The house had to go over them. There's Border Magic (a landscaping border) up there and it didn't even scrape it. To me I think the house just floated over the landscaping."
With his pregnant wife in it.
"She's doing good. She's seen the doctor and everything is good with her and the baby," Johnson said. "The good Lord was with us. The house woulda gone down that road, I believe."
If not for an ugly Sycamore along the street.
"That tree, I've been wanting to tear it out for the last six months," Johnson said. "It's got those big leaves and it drops bark all year long. Now I'm kinda glad I didn't tear the damn thing down."
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.