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