Chesterton Tribune

Neighbors helping neighbors: Tornado brings out the best

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At a press conference late Thursday afternoon, a talking head from WGN asked Chesterton Town Manager Bernie Doyle--her voice appropriately heavy with melodramatic gravitas--what the impact of Wednesday’s tornado had been on his small town.

The big-city journalist got her answer, and though perhaps not the one she expected it will certainly come as no surprise to Dunelanders.

No catch in the throat from Doyle, no wincing, no hesitation, no beating of the breast. Instead, a smile.

“It did have an impact,” Doyle replied, “but it had a positive impact.”

For one thing, he said, “it could have been a lot worse,” no one was killed, a very few sustained only minor injuries, and in comparison to the destruction of entire towns--which WGN has reported in the past with suitable breathlessness--Chesterton got off easy. “We’re very fortunate it occurred at night,” Doyle noted, when school was not in session and in the middle of a heavy rain when few people were actually outside.

For Doyle, however, the gist of it is this: the tornado just “shows what Americans--and Chesterton residents--are still capable of when the chips are down.”

In fact, the spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in Duneland and from the community at large there’s been an outpouring of assistance for those in need of it.

Or as Det. Lt. Dave Adkins of the Chesterton Police Department said around 1 p.m. on Thursday, while having lunch at the Chesterton fire station--lunch provided by a host of donors eager to help--“the story, the real story, the big story, is about community and this community’s coming together.”

What about that lunch, just for starters? Cathy Thompson of the Porter County Chapter of the American Red Cross gave this rundown: both Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar at 791 Indian Boundary Road in Chesterton and Evelyn Bay of Valparaiso furnished food to the scores of emergency responders and volunteers who descended on Chesterton. The Salvation Army also provided McDonald’s, as the Red Cross itself had done Wednesday night and then breakfast early Thursday morning.

The town hall staff--whom Doyle called the “unknown command post”--fielded dozens of calls throughout the day on Thursday from folks wanting to know what they can do. “We’re taking the names of volunteers,” Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski said. “And we have a Red Cross donation box for those who want to contribute money.”

Polakowski added that kids and their moms were baking cookies for volunteers and packing lunches, bringing them to the fire station, and then leaving. Who were they? Your neighbors. Dads armed with chainsaws attacked trees and limbs in strangers’ yards. Hard-boiled though he may be, Doyle said that the one tear he’s shed since Wednesday was on learning of these people’s generosity.

Doyle also expressed his gratitude to, and his admiration of, the volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol, a U.S. Air Force auxiliary, and the Boy Scouts who, within minutes of the tornado’s passing through, appeared on the scene to begin the house-to-house canvas of neighborhoods, in the fruitless search for casualties. “These guys hardly ever get press,” he said. “But they’re always there when you need them.”

For folks in need of a shower or a breather in the air conditioning, Doyle said, the Duneland Health and Wellness Institute--operated by St. Anthony Memorial Health Center in Michigan City--opened its doors on Thursday in its own gesture of good will.

Meanwhile, the Chesterton Lions Club is planning a cleanup of Dunes Friendship Land and is also making Kmart gift cards available to victims of the tornado. “Some of these people, all they have now is the clothes on their back,” said Mike Smith, first vice district governor of District 25A. “The gift cards will be able to help them with immediate needs.” Call Smith at (219) 629-0738.

From Chesterton department heads, on the other hand, has come warm words of praise for their own employees and for the quick response of their colleagues across the county.

“It just goes to show, the way everything’s structured, things fell into place and everybody did what they’re trained to do,” Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said of his men.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my people,” Fire Chief Mike Orlich added.

And both expressed their gratitude to the other agencies: to the Porter County Highway Department and the City of Valparaiso for providing equipment and manpower; to the Liberty, Burns Harbor, and Washington Township volunteer fire departments, many of whose men and women gave up paying days at work to respond in Chesterton; and to DNR Conservation Officers and the Indiana State Police.

So many agencies have responded it’s likely that the Tribune has only an incomplete list of volunteers and is making inadvertent omissions.


Pastor Chris Newman-Jacobs of the Chesterton First United Methodist Church is urging victims of the tornado to contact their home churches or CFUMC if they’re in need of help clearing and cleaning their property. Newman-Jacobs told the Tribune on Thursday that a call to her church has gone out and that a list of volunteers is being compiled.

She added that the Duneland Ministerial Association is holding its regular meeting on Monday and that she expects long-term tornado assistance to be a main topic of discussion.

Call CFUMC at 926-1478.

Westchester Township Trustee

Maybe surprisingly, Westchester Township Trustee Suzanne Philbrick said that her office has received no calls from victims of the tornado seeking assistance.

But assistance is available. “We’re basically a food, shelter, clothing agency, your basic necessities,” she said, and while funds of course are short, Philbrick can offer some help, like vouchers for limited motel stays. “We can refer folks to places where they can get food or clothing. Or we can refer them to other agencies which can provide more extensive assistance.”

Only Westchester Township residents are eligible. Call 926-1405 to make an appointment. The office is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and is located at 100 W. Indiana Ave. in Chesterton.




Posted 8/21/2009