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where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later

Front page of the first Plainfield Enterprise published following the tornado


column: Eyes on the Storm


column: chief konopek's severe weather safety


column: Fire Department Remembers


district 202's 25 years of growth

Sports editor Scott Taylor shares how the 1990 tornado changed him

Lessons from tornado continue to resonate with first responders

Outside agencies gave emergency personnel needed reinforcements

From tragedy comes growth and opportunity


rebuilding the faith


weathering the storm

St. Mary Immaculate Parish turns disaster into spiritual growth

Advances in methods used to predict, track severe weather offer life-saving potential


Eight Minutes in August


nabby's: open for business

Joliet Area Historical Museum’s exhibit chronicles the moment that forever changed the area

Restaurant owner recalls experiences of the 1990 tornado

enterprise staff Michael James | General Manager,

Scott taylor | Sports Editor

Mark Gregory | Staff Reporter

VP Advertising & Marketing

andrea earnest | Assistant Editor

andrew samaan | Creative Director

laura katauskas | Staff Reporter

phil besler | Sales Associate

Pat Ryan | Advertising Director

steve hodge | Advertising Designer

jonathan samples | Managing Editor

laureen crotteau | Marketing Director

Shelley Holmgren | Publication Designer

maureen vitacco | Sales Associate nicole austin | Sales Associate dena conn | Sales Associate

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where we stand

| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR

together, we'll face any challenge by jonathan samples | Managing Editor


s i sit down to write this, i’m less than 12 hours removed from a tornado scare of my own. the national Weather service issued a tornado warning for my town at 8:10 p.m. aug. 19. i hightailed it to my basement, where i spend the next 5 minutes sitting in my crawl space waiting for the storm to pass. in those intense few moments, i could not help but think about the devastation these violent storms have caused in places such as Coal City (2015); moore, oklahoma (2013); Joplin, texas (2011); and plainfield (1990). I was 3 years old when the 1990 tornado left a deep scar across Plainfield, Crest hill and Joliet. I lived in Lombard back then and was not directly affected by the storm. I have few, if any, memories from that day. But the tornado that touched down in Lemont several months later, left vivid memories. I was at a Dominick’s grocery store in nearby Westmont with my great grandparents when tornado sirens began to sound. Workers sprang into action and everyone inside was ushered to the back of the store. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the unmistakable influence Aug. 28, 1990, had on the psyche of the Chicago metropolitan area – including my great grandparents and I on March 27, 1991. For many students from the area,

"aug. 28, 1990 served as a powerful reminder of the importance of severe weather preparedness, but it was not the first natural disaster to inflict such human suffering and it will not be the last." the 90s were filled with frequent tornado drills and cautionary tales from teachers and parents, alike, about the storm that destroyed a small farm town just a few miles away. In the months leading up to the publication of “Where We Stand,” the dedicated staff at The Enterprise heard dozens of stories from people who were both directly impacted by the 1990 tornado and those who have felt the secondhand effects of this historic storm. One of those people was heather Bigeck of the Joliet Area historical Museum. While working on the museum’s “Eight Minutes in August” exhibit, she was forced to analyze the ways that storm impacted her life. Like myself, she remembers the heightened importance of tornado drills. “As a student, we really did after that day start taking those drills seriously, because we knew the school just a few miles away was devastated and those kids would have died had they not taken these drills seriously,” Bigeck said. “It affected communities far and wide; when you hear these sirens, take them seriously.” Aug. 28, 1990 served as a powerful reminder of the importance of severe weather preparedness, but it was not the first natural disaster to inflict such human suffering and it will not

be the last. The number of extremeweather events has increased over the years. One only needs to look at the high number of tornadic storms this summer to see that 1990, while devastating, is part of a constant and growing line of weather-related disasters. When we are personally impacted by severe thunderstorms or blizzards, it is quite natural to think about their cause and effect. But we do not need to look as far away as Texas, where record-breaking floods killed at least 27 people earlier this year. In April 2013, many suburbs across Chicagoland experienced their own record-setting rainfall total and flooding. These storms prompted many of those suburbs to take action: passing ordinances to put in place dedicated revenue sources to replace and repair the area’s crumbling stormwater infrastructure. This action, like the actions taken in the aftermath of the 1990 tornado, is a testament to the resolve humanity displays in the face of tragedy. In the past 30 years, an already decades-long increase in average global temperatures has begun to quicken. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the 10 warmest years on record worldwide have occurred since 1998, and 2014 set the record as the hottest year across global land and ocean surfaces. These rising global temperatures share a direct correlation with an increase in extreme-weather events. Severe droughts, record rainfall and flooding, unpredictable and heavy snowfall, and stronger storms are all products of a warming planet. The Environmental Protection Agency says extreme weather and changing weather patterns are the most noticeable indicators of climate change. Just turn on the news and you will see the human costs of these events. From New Orleans to Washington, Illinois, we have seen the effects of this trend with increasing regularity. But just as the communities of Plainfield, Crest hill and Joliet came together in response to the tragedy on Aug. 28, 1990, so to must our global community in the face of the single most-important challenge facing our planet today: man-made climate change.

where we stand

| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR |

page 5

enterPrIse fIle Photo

After former Enterprise publisher Wayne Perry and printer Bob Beardon heard the cries of two infants coming from a home that lay in ruins, Beardon, left, Max Alton, Merv Hupp, Whitney Cox and Sam Reichert dug through the rubble to find babies Danielle Friedel and Taylor Bowen. Unharmed, both were reunited with their parents.

"i've always wondered whether plainfield would have grown the way it did had there not been a tornado. i think it would have to a point, but not as fast or to as great an extent."

fOrever changed Aug. 28 altered our town but strengthened our community by scott taylor | Sports Editor


have been a resident of the plainfield-Joliet area my whole life, and experienced both highs and lows during my time here. of course, the biggest low i have ever witnessed was 25 years ago, aug. 28, 1990. There have been many changes to the area after that day, particularly in Plainfield. Before the tornado (and the immediate years after), my family routinely drove down Route 59 to Fox Valley Mall in Aurora. Back then, the drive from Plainfield to

Naperville was mostly farmland. It was a quick drive, with limited traffic lights along the way. There was just one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools at that time. County Line and Ridge roads were relatively empty, as well. On the day of the tornado, it was hot, sunny and humid. Most of the people I’ve talked with about that day remember having relatively little concern about the possibility of storms. Now, of course, hot and humid days serve as a reminder that severe weather is always a possibility. I remember how quickly the sky turned dark after my dad got home from work that afternoon.

It then turned a bluish, green tint, just before lightning nearly struck my mother’s car, who was returning to our home from spending time with my grandma. It couldn’t have been more than a couple minutes after she arrived that I began to hear hail pounding on our roof. To this day, it was the loudest hail I have heard. My family and I ran into our bathroom just as the tornado hit. I’ll always remember that it lasted just 16 seconds. And like that, it was over. Like the movie Twister, the sun was already out when we left our bathroom. We looked out in our backyard, and I saw large tree branches stacked up against the house. Prior to the storm, there were no trees on that side of the home. We soon realized how lucky we were. My family decided to go on a walk to see the damage, which got worse and worse as we walked down our street. Eventually, we started seeing houses that were wiped clean, and debris and nails were seemingly everywhere. One of the structures that was completely wiped out was our next-door neighbor’s garage, which was no more than 30 yards from the bathroom my family and I ran to for safety. The community and our lives changed forever. As for my family, my sister developed a hatred of storms that she carries to this day. I, on the other hand, love storms. I get excited every time the forecast calls for a storm, and you can usually find me outside scanning the clouds as it approaches. I

spend my spring days watching the Weather Channel, as well as live storm-chasing feeds online. One thing I learned from my newly found hobby, my family and I should have sought shelter in our windowless hallway, rather than our bathroom. Since the tornado hit, the town also changed dramatically. I’ve always wondered whether Plainfield would have grown the way it did had there not been a tornado. I think it would have to a point, but not as fast or to as great an extent. In many ways, the 1990 tornado put Plainfield on the map. With much of the village needing to be rebuilt, it became a prime location for people to consider when moving. And, it didn’t take long for that to happen. I was attending kindergarten in 1990. By the time I was in sixth grade, I was the first class to go all the way through Timber Ridge Middle School. I was also the last full class to go through Plainfield high School, as South high had only acquired freshmen and sophomore classes by the time I entered my junior year. Interestingly, the past two places I lived were in the direct damage path of the 1990 tornado. And despite my interest in storm tracking, I guess I’m banking on lightning not striking twice! I am grateful that my family and I made it through this devastating storm. No one will ever know for sure how Plainfield’s future would have been different if the tornado missed our community. But what we do know is that our community was able to recover from all the damage it incurred, and we’re stronger because of it.

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where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later

Image courtesy of St. Mary Immaculate Parish

Preventing another catastrophe Lessons from 1990 tornado continue to resonate with Plainfield’s first responders By John Konopek | Chief of Police, Plainfield Police Department; Director, Plainfield Emergency Management Agency


n Aug. 28, 1990 a devastating tornado tore through the village of Plainfield and other surrounding areas, taking a large human toll and leaving behind a path of destruction. Most survivors said they had no warning of the approaching storm and had little to no time to seek shelter. Emergency personnel from around the state responded and assisted the local officials during the initial hours after the tornado and in the days and weeks to follow. In the 25 years since this disaster, almost every aspect of severe weather alerting, and emergency preparedness and response protocols have been re-examined, upgraded and implemented in an effort to reduce or minimize a disaster

of this magnitude from ever occurring again. But what specifically has changed in Plainfield since the 1990 tornado? The most important change we have seen is the advancement and development of new technology used by meteorologists to predict and alert people to approaching

severe weather. In 1990, the technology did not allow for the tornado to be detected on radar until it was already causing devastation. In most cases, today’s technology allows for several days early warning of a possible severe-weather event and several minutes notice of these approaching severe storms, giving people in the storm’s path the capability to seek shelter before it arrives. Just in recent months, lives have been saved by this advanced technology in several communities in Illinois. Technology is only so reliable, though, and most observations on radar should be verified by a visual confirmation of the weather conditions. This process is accomplished through the use of certified weather spotters. This group of volunteers have attended classes and seminars to learn important information about cloud formations, the effects of strong winds on trees and structures, and when a report of severe weather should be forwarded

"As Plainfield remembers the disaster from 25 years ago, weather professionals, emergency responders and the residents of our community continue to work together to ensure that every effort is made to reduce the likelihood of another catastrophic event from impacting our village."

to local emergency officials or the National Weather Service. Plainfield has trained most of its emergency responders and hundreds of residents in weather spotting protocols. Today, the Plainfield and Oswego fire protection districts, the Plainfield Police Department and the Plainfield Emergency Management Agency are a model example of interagency cooperation, whether needed during everyday incidents or largescale emergencies and disasters. Plainfield surrounding communities have been impacted by several disasters since 1990, including floods, blizzards and other severe weather events. In each of these events, the village’s emergency responders have seamlessly worked together to bring the incident under control and quickly transition to recovery for the affected people. These agencies have conducted numerous drills and exercises to test the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing programs. Personnel from these agencies have responded to disasters in other communities, as

well, bringing their extensive knowledge and experience to these stricken jurisdictions, while gathering valuable information and new techniques to respond to any future emergencies that may occur in the village. Plainfield has also worked with its residents to implement a number of emergency preparedness initiatives, such as the Community Emergency Response Team, the discounted sale of weather alerting radios, and a number of severe weather and emergencypreparedness seminars over the last several years. As Plainfield remembers the disaster from 25 years ago, weather professionals, emergency responders and the residents of our community continue to work together to ensure that every effort is made to reduce the likelihood of another catastrophic event from impacting our village. John Konopek is a lifelong resident of the Plainfield-Joliet area. He joined the Plainfield Police Department in 1995 and was appointed chief of police for the department in 2011. Konopek also serves as the director of the Plainfield Emergency Management Agency, a volunteer organization that provides the services to assist at all disasters and large-scale emergencies involving the Plainfield community.

| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR |


aug 28




du pla pag inFi eld er /na per ive vill r e rd







locKport st



pilcher rd

143rd st

126 il-

b locKport st


renwicK rd












e f

0 e3 ut ro














caton FarM rd

essington rd

i-55 highway


0 e3 ut ro

“I helped the Salvation Army serve three meals a day to all the response workers for at least a week after the tornado,” Rouse said. One of the most memorable calls for paramedic Jim Pubentz is the 1990 tornado, as well. “The call lasted for weeks with search and rescue as well as clean up,” said Pubentz, whose home was damaged by the tornado. Pubentz noted that every aspect of his life was somehow impacted by that storm, and said he will never forget all the help the community received. “It was uplifting to see people from all over coming to help Plainfield,” he said. To this day, the Plainfield Fire Protection District remains grateful to the assistance provided to us by other fire agencies.


theodore st

j ingalls ave



larKin ave

143rd st

0 e3 ut ro

Chief Eichelberger (retired) remembers to this day how the tornado struck three schools, including Plainfield Central high School, St. Mary Immaculate School and Grand Prairie Elementary School, the day before classes were supposed to begin. “If the tornado had hit one day later, the three schools that were directly hit by the tornado would have been full,” Eichelberger said. Firefighter Ralph Rouse, current president of Plainfield Fire Department, said one call that he will never forget is the tornado on Aug. 28, 1990.



Fire Inspector Plainfield Fire Protection District



chapins rd

by Mary ludemann |

n the storm’s aftermath, the plainfield Fire protection district was assisted by 133 different fire districts and departments. they brought 238 pieces of equipment, including 51 rescue squads, 47 fire engines and 70 ambulances that were staffed by 868 fire and emergency medical personnel.


route 59

Outside agencies provided Plainfield’s emergency personnel with needed reinforcements


path of the plainfield tornado

route 30

Fire department remembers

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gaylord rd

where we stand


where we stand

district 202's 25 years of growth

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| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR

frOm tragedy cOmes grOwth and OppOrtunity Looking back on District 202’s 25 years of growth by andrea earnest |

Assistant Editor


hen the 1990 tornado hit plainfield, it directly struck plainfield high school, now the site of plainfield Central. after demolishing the school, the tornado destroyed district 202’s administration building. grand prairie elementary school was also partially destroyed. Two people were killed at Plainfield high School and another died after the tornado struck the district’s administration center. They were henry Bergquist, Patricia Skoien and Stephen hunt. School was supposed to start the next day, Aug. 29, and fortunately only a small number of students and faculty were present at the time. No tornado sirens went off in Plainfield, and the National Weather Service hadn’t issued any warnings. Residents were taken completely by surprise and had to scramble to safety. Several athletes and coaches were at the high school for practice and were able to make it to a hallway safely. Thomas hernandez, director of community relations for District 202, said the teachers who were present that day tell a harrowing story of survival. “The football team was outside practicing, and they looked up and saw this ugly, green sky and decided to come into the building,” hernandez said. “They came into the gym, and the power went out in the building.” That’s when volleyball coach Lisa Klaas made the wise decision to move everyone out of the gymnasium and into the hallway. As the last students and coaches exited the gym, the tornado lifted off the building’s roof and the structure collapsed. Because of the destruction at Plainfield high School, District 202 had to find a temporary site for those displaced students. The district moved into the former Joliet Catholic high School building on Broadway Street in Joliet as a short-term fix. Students from Plainfield attended school there until the 1992-93 school year, when the high school was rebuilt. “The archdiocese [of Joliet] allowed them to use [the JCA building] for two school years,” hernandez said. “The community really came together.” The community certainly did band together. Despite the devastation at the high school, the homecoming parade and celebration still occurred. Classes started at the JCA building on Sept. 13, barely more than two weeks after the tornado. Plans for the new Plainfield high School were already being talked about in September and October of 1990. Even though, it took two years for those plans to come to fruition, the Board of Education met with architects early on to build a high school for 21st century students. A Media Center/Tech Center was built, which also served as a library. A new auditorium was also built, and opened in March 1993. A musical re-creation of the tornado was performed, and students from

enterPrIse fIle Photos

Plainfield HIgh School was completely destroyed as a result of the tornado.

"the football team was outside practicing, and they looked up and saw this ugly, green sky and decided to come into the building." -district 202 communications director tom hernandez

the band and choir also participated. The original building, which was destroyed by the tornado, was built in 1956-1957. The new building was built with the future and the past in mind. Some designs are reminiscent of the old building, while new technology brought students into the future. The design included the placement of three memorials on the campus, including one marking where Fort Beggs once stood and another marking the path of the deadly 1990 tornado. At the time, then-principal James Waldorf gave credit for the “massive undertaking” to an incalculable outpouring of community support. “There is no way to accurately calculate how many persons, how many hours or how many decisions were involved in this incredible collaborative project,” Waldorf wrote in a column for commemorative publication to mark the opening of the new high school. “The planning and the construction process required the orchestration of literally hundreds of people and processes.” The community also expanded. From 1990 to 2015, Plainfield has transformed from a little village in the middle of cornfields into the bustling suburb it is today. As a result, District 202 also experienced a period of extraordinary growth. “In 1990, we had 3,500 [students], three elementary schools, one middle school [and] one high school,” hernandez said.

where we stand

| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR |

tO the future


he huge population that came to the area in the ‘90s moved through the school system, increasing enrollment throughout district 202. three high schools were constructed over a period of seven years: plainfield south opened in 2001, north in 2005 and east in 2008. Despite being built more than 10 years after the 1990 tornado, hernandez said the new high school buildings were designed with that fateful August day in mind. “They have basically two long hallways,” hernandez said. This design creates a corridor that allows wind to blow through, while allowing walls to block the wind and protect the building’s interior. In addition to its four high schools, the district now has 17 elementary schools and seven middle schools. “We’re the fourth largest district in Illinois,” hernandez said. “...In 2009, just as the recession was starting, we hit our peak enrollment, which was 29,800 students.” According to U.S. Census data, Plainfield had a little more than 13,000 residents at the turn of the century. The 2013 census estimate is a little over 41,000. Many believe the tornado is what caused the explosive growth in Plainfield. Instead, a combination of factors contributed to the village’s

rapid expansion. “[District 202] is an incredible place, that is defined by two huge things,” he said. “One is the tornado and one is this period from the late ‘90s to the middle 2000s…” Media attention from the storm did draw people to the town, but hernandez said the combined effects of a growing economy and open land attracted people from Chicago and its inner suburbs to Plainfield. “They looked out here and they saw the ‘American Dream’,” hernandez explained. “They saw low taxes, good schools, low crime and available, affordable housing.” District 202’s enrollment increased by an average of 2,500 new students a year in the roughly seven-year period after the tornado, according to hernandez. Between 1990 and 2008, 25 schools were built in Plainfield. “Every single year, we were opening at least one school, sometimes two,” hernandez said. he added that the recent decision by District 202 to implement a limited full-day kindergarten program is partly the result of this period of rapid expansion. With 28 schools now making up the district, its students have continued to carry on the growth and progress set in motion more than two decades ago. “The students do very, very well,” hernandez said. “Eighty percent of students meet or exceed state standards.” District 202 will never forget Aug. 28, 1990, but students, teachers and officials are determined to continue moving forward from the tragedy that befell Plainfield 25 years ago.

Image courtesy of st. mary Immaculate ParIsh

grOwth in district 202 1990 - 2015 ‘90-’91


‘97-’98 7,712

# of students enrolled

‘98-’99 8,756 ‘99-’00 10,181 ‘00-’01




‘02-’03 16,778 ‘03-’04 19,046 ‘04-’05 21,691 ‘05-’06 24,366 ‘06-’07




‘08-’09 28,870 ‘09-’10











28,117 0







district 202’s 25 years of growth

"there is no way to accurately calculate how many persons, how many hours or how many decisions were involved in this incredible collaborative project. the planning and the construction process required the orchestration of literally hundreds of people and processes." - Former phs principal James waldorf

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where we stand

district 202's 25 years of growth

page 10

| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR


timeline Of




first school established in a log cabin at 401 division st.

Plainfield college established, teaching high school and college curriculum.


“the old White school” is built at the corner of lockport and division streets, used as an elementary school and also offered some high school courses.


Plainfield’s school song, “When you’re marching for old Plainfield” was adopted.

first class graduates from Plainfield high school. (Jerome flagg, lucy hoffer, may sennitt and lina Walker completed a 3-year program to earn this distinction.)

the first Phs baseball team is organized by fred Pratt, who served as captain, manager and coach. the team was 14-0 for the season.



first Parent-teacher association was formed, with mrs. avery lambert, president.


a three story red brick structure was built at a cost of $25,000 to house Plainfield high school.


school colors are changed to green and white.



superintendent of schools h.J. bassler organized Plainfield high school’s first basketball program. the team played outside on a dirt court; occasionally the students chip in to rent the local skating rink for games and practices.


Plainfield concert and marching bands are established under the direction of William Johnston.



first “Plainsman” yearbook is printed, with ann roegge, elaine madison and dorothy lambert as advisors.

school superintendent Walter g. niehus organized Plainfield’s first homecoming, held oct. 10 and 11. the theme was “school days,” and anne dodge was the first homecoming queen.


groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the new Plainfield high school at 612 commercial st. the building was designed by architects berger, Kelley, and associates. construction contract was awarded to shepherd construction company.



new music department area, cafeteria and auditorium were added at Phs.


new district administration center opened on Phs campus.

Phs stadium was built, with concrete and brick stands and regulation football field.


new Plainfield high school opened with 18 teachers and 320 students. Principal was stuart Johnson.

aug. 28, 1990

a tornado destroyed Plainfield high school. classes began meeting at the former Joliet catholic high school building on broadway street in Joliet.


Plainfield east opened.



Plans for new Phs finalized by healy, snyder, bender and associates; school board awarded a construction contract to george sollitt construction co. of Wood dale. groundbreaking was oct. 22.

former gov. Jim edgar toured the recently completed high school feb. 24, 1993, and classes began march 2.


Plainfield south opened.


Plainfield north opened.


district 202 reached a peak enrollment of 29,800 students.

where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later |

The Homecoming Plainfield High School graduate Connie Gehrke’s poem about the rebuilt Plainfield High School was published in a commemorative section published March 2, 1993, by The Enterprise.


The worn school bell is silent. Once a symbol of pride, tradition, and learning, it sits patiently. Who will remember? Who will care? What event will signal its return to a place of honor in the community? August 28, 1990. Plainfield, Illinois. No one can forget the terror, despair, fear, pain, hopelessness of that day. We remember lost loved ones and shattered lives. We marvel at miracles of survival, we are grateful for countless acts of kindness by family, friends, volunteers, strangers. Seen by the outside as victims, we know deep in our hearts that we are survivors. We learn that life goes on, though different from the way it was. We appreciate the detailed fabric of our lives. We begin to adjust; we start to heal. Our hearts break as each day we send our future away from us on yellow school buses. Fate has reminded us of what we already knew. A school is not merely mortar and bricks; its lifeblood is the students, faculty, and staff who together accomplish the goal of learning.

Enterprise File Photo

The scoreboard sits in a pile of rubble of what used to be Plainfield High School’s gymnasium.

But we miss your smiles and laughter, so we work together for your return. Bright, bold, modern, a building rises from what once was. Our gift to you and future generations, this school signifies our commitment to excellence in education. We can never replace what you have lost, but we can provide the foundation to help you reach your rainbows. The school bell waits proudly. The time has finally come to ring with joy, anticipation, and thanksgiving. It proclaims a rich heritage and a promising future for a united community. So indulge our tears of bittersweet feelings as we remember the past and embrace tomorrow. We have waiting a very long time to say Welcome Home.

Enterprise File Photo

district 202’s 25 years of growth


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where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later

Finding a new


St. Mary Immaculate Parish turns disaster into spiritual growth By Jonathan Samples

Managing Editor


he first time Fr. David Medow passed through Plainfield was during a family trip to Springfield in the 1970s. At the time, Interstate 55 was still in its infancy, and towns on the periphery of the Chicago metropolitan area seemed much further from the big city than they do today. “It seemed like we had to be halfway across the country,” remembered Medow, who grew up on Chicago’s North Side. During that trip, he recalled passing a truck stop that stuck with him throughout his childhood. It wasn’t until much later

st. mary’s:

100 years of growth T

he first mass at St. Mary Immaculate Church was held on Palm Sunday 1908. Back then, the parish was named St. Mary Immaculate Conception and served a village of slightly more than 1,100 residents.

when he moved to the area, that Medow realized the truck stop in his memory was located on Route 30 and I-55; the far-off land was Plainfield. Prior to 1990, Plainfield and the surrounding communities were much different than they are today: both in scope and identity. The destructive tornado that tore through the area Aug. 28, 1990, devastated people and property alike. The tornado – classified as an F5 on the Fujita scale – caused approximately $165 million worth of damage and claimed 29 lives, as it passed through Plainfield, Crest Hill and Joliet. In addition to those losses, Medow, who is now the pastor of St. Mary Immaculate Parish, said the community and parish lost the small town identity they were once so proud of. “Don’t forget, even though we’re only 35 minutes away from downtown Chicago, this was a very small town that did not

think of itself as part of the Chicago metropolitan area,” he said. “That was lost.” St. Mary Immaculate was in the direct path of the storm. Its church, school and rectory were destroyed. To add to the tragedy, three parishioners, including the school’s principal, were killed when the tornado crossed Route 59 and struck the parish property. “You have to understand, it wasn’t just a place of worship that was lost,” Medow recalled. “The whole life of the parish lost its center, and it’s a complex life.” At the time, the parish had fewer than 1,400 families. Now, 8,100 families call St. Mary Immaculate home. And while efforts to rebuild the parish and community were difficult, Medow said the power of the human spirit on display in those years was breathtaking. “It is amazing the resiliency and the power of new life that emerged on the other side,” Medow said.

St. Mary’s was the first Catholic church in Plainfield and originally located downtown on Lockport Street. Parishioner Ginger O’Donnell became a member in the 1930s. In a 2008 interview with Enterprise reporter Shannon McCarthy, O’Donnell recalled memories of a small town with few Catholics. “We were only going to stay in Plainfield for one year, but everyone was so wonderful to us, we never moved,” she said, remembering the warm welcome she and her family received from the community. Religious instruction classes preceded the opening of a parish school in the 1950s. After becoming the pastor of St. Mary’s in 1916, Fr. Peter Lieser began bringing Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate to

where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later |


t was a hot and humid afternoon, and John Harvey was returning home from Morris, Illinois, where he worked for ComEd. Harvey, now the building services supervisor for St. Mary Immaculate, had just stopped to pick up his eldest daughter, Julie, from beautician school. That was when he first noticed the approaching storm.

“And as soon as I got on [Route] 59 heading north, I see this humongous black cloud, and I thought, ‘boy, that’s a heck of a storm.’” The family lived directly behind St. Mary’s church. By the time Harvey and his daughter reached Caton Farm Road, he said the roads were bedlam. The tornado had already passed through, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. “I remember everybody walking around. It was just like "I remember everybody they were all in shock, in a daze, walking around. It was just [and] everyone was just looking at the damage and thinking like they were all in shock, what to do next.” in a daze, [and] everyone was Harvey’s home was badly damaged but not destroyed. just looking at the damage More importantly, his wife and thinking what to do next." and second daughter, who were home at the time, were unharmed. Harvey’s attention then turned to his son, Joe, who had been playing baseball in a field behind St. Mary’s about an hour before the storm. Harvey and his wife didn’t know it at the time, but their son had left the field to go to a friend’s house and out of the path of the deadly tornado. “I was very, very lucky,” Harvey said. “My family was intact. God was watching over my family. We all came out okay.” Next, Harvey set out to assess the damage to the neighborhood and offer whatever help he could. He made his way to St. Mary’s, which had been directly hit by the tornado just after 3:30 p.m. Harvey remembers seeing cars stacked atop one another in the gymnasium. It – along with the church, rectory, parish offices and school – was completely destroyed. “You can’t prevent the property destruction, but the loss of life in this area, 29 people, was unprecedented,” said Medow, who lived in Crest Hill at the time.

Plainfield each Saturday to teach classes. In the mid 1950s, the parish expanded its Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, or CCD, classes to include high school students. At about the same time, the parish purchased a 6-acre tract of land in Plainfield Acres for $9,000. On Nov. 7, 1954, St. Mary’s broke ground on its first parish school building on the property, with Rev. Herman Ezell turning the first shovel of dirt. The school had 167 students enrolled and four faculty members when it opened in September 1955. Parish membership started to take off, and St. Mary Immaculate began building a new church in the 1960s to accommodate

Images Courtesy of St. Mary Immaculate Parish

Among the dead were Sister Mary Keenan, music teacher Gloria Sanchez and Howard Hawes Jr., who was the son of the parish cook. In a matter of minutes, the tornado reduced a large section of Plainfield to rubble. But in the days, months and years after that August afternoon, members of the community banded together to rebuild their town and redefine its identity.

that growth. Located south of Route 30 on Route 59, it opened in 1970 at the site of the current church, where it would serve as the spiritual center of Plainfield’s Catholic community for the next 20 years. On April 12, 2008, St. Mary Immaculate celebrated its centennial. At the time, the parish included almost 7,000 families. However, many of those parishioners came to to the church after 1990 and never had the opportunity attended mass in St. Mary’s first church on Route 59.

Enterprise File Photo

St. Mary Immaculate Parish built its first church on Route 59 in 1970.

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| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later

determined to rebuild

“We are numbed and grieving. But we are also determined to rebuild a new St. Mary Immaculate to once again serve as God’s beacon of hope and faith for our community…” - Rev. Charles Van Duren, 1992]

Images Courtesy of St. Mary Immaculate


leanup and recovery efforts began immediately after the storm, but that process was different for everyone involved.

For Harvey, it centered around his immediate neighborhood. People gathered together to help each other and remove debris, cutting down trees and clearing roads. Harvey said this immediate response helped tear down any unfamiliarity that existed between residents, as they united to work toward a common cause. “Because of the storm, neighbors knew neighbors,” he recalled. “We were all closer.” Medow was out of the country when the tornado hit, but he heard about the tragedy on a BBC News report. He returned to Crest Hill five days later and was shocked by the amount of destruction he observed. “You’ve never seen anything like it, and you never want to see anything like it again.” At the time, Medow was a minister at Theodore Street Lutheran Church in Crest Hill. Despite not being directly impacted by the storm, the church mobilized workers to help those of its members who were. Medow said seven members of the congregation lost their homes, and Theodore Street Lutheran assisted both them and the community by preparing and delivering meals, helping with the clean up, and providing shelter. “It was a long-term commitment, but people sprung into action,” Medow said. “I was really proud of the response of the entire community.” For St. Mary Immaculate Parish, the damage was so extensive that simply mobilizing a response to the crisis was challenging. St. Mary’s first had to find a location to coordinate its recovery efforts, as well as conduct the business of the parish. That included finding a place for priests to live, a place to celebrate Mass and hold funerals and a place for students to attend school. Mass was typically held at the minor seminary of the Joliet Diocese, but St. Mary’s Community Relations Coordinator Pam Angelus also remembers attending Mass in the gymnasium of Indian Trail Middle School. St. Mary’s students shared classroom space at Central Elementary School, attending class in the afternoon. When its new school opened in August 1992, St. Mary’s began celebrating Mass in its own gymnasium. “Talk about a sense of community,” Angelus said. “A small community really came together.” On Aug. 27, 1994, St. Mary Immaculate opened its new church. And for the first time in four years, the parish had a home. But while parishioners had their place of worship restored, many of the long-term effects of the tornado had not yet come to fruition.

where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later |

“When you look at the tremendous rebirth of the parish and the community in spirit – not just in population – all you can do is give thanks and praise to God.” - Pastor David Medow

Photo by Jonathan Samples | Managing Editor

An act of new creation I n the mid- to late-90s, the population of Plainfield exploded, as did St. Mary’s membership. Medow remembers joking in those years that only Catholics were buying the plethora of new homes. Once a minority in the village, Catholics now represent the majority faith in Plainfield, and St. Mary Immaculate has grown into one of the largest Catholic parishes in the state.

“This whole area has changed because of growth and development, and the tornado was a big factor in that,” said Medow. “It was going to happen eventually; [the tornado] just accelerated it.” With that growth, however, came a different type of loss. Medow said there were people in the parish, as well as the community, who were angry and harbored resentment toward Plainfield’s changing demographic. According to U.S. Census data, the village had just 4,557 residents in 1990. By 2010, the population swelled to 39,581. Once a rural, agriculturally based community, Plainfield quickly became one of Chicago’s fastestgrowing suburbs. “There was a sense that people in Plainfield had about Plainfield,

and that was lost,” Medow said. “It was another death after all the destruction.” The resentment was short lived, however. Medow credited former pastor Tony Nugent with breaking parishioners out of that way of thinking by refusing to let them wallow in sadness and nostalgia. “He kept telling people,” Medow remembered, “This is an act of new creation on God’s part, and we have to embrace that and live to that future and see it as a blessing.” In the 25 years since the tornado destroyed St. Mary Immaculate’s buildings, the parish’s members have experienced tremendous spiritual growth. Medow said it made parishioners empathetic to the suffering of others and incredibly generous in their donations to victims of natural disasters around the world. But more importantly, Medow said the love that was put into action following the storm and the stronger community it created are the lasting legacies of Aug. 28, 1990. “This place is living proof of the power of resurrection,” the pastor said. “When you look at the tremendous rebirth of the parish and the community in spirit – not just in population – all you can do is give thanks and praise to God.”

now& then

Image Courtesy of St. Mary Immaculate

Volunteers help pick up the pieces, following the tornado.

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where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later Photo by Jonathan Samples | Managing Editor


Advances in methods used to predict, track severe weather offer life-saving potential By Laura Katauskas |

Staff Reporter


eather forecasting has become far more superior to the procedures in use at the time a powerful F5 tornado devastated Plainfield and parts of Will County 25 years ago. On the afternoon of the storm, Aug. 28, 1990, there was no tornado watch or warning in effect. The closest weather station was located in Rosemont, approximately 30 miles northeast of Plainfield. It wasn’t until 1991 that the National Weather Service opened its location in Romeoville, at 333 University Drive. Before the Romeoville location was built, the closest information collected was coming from radar equipment based in Marseilles, Illinois. Then, information was relayed to Rosemont and transferred to other areas via telephone. “You have to remember, at time of the Plainfield tornado, there were no cell phones, there was no Doppler, there wasn’t even Internet,” said Mike Bardou, a warning coordinator meteorologist for

the National Weather Service. “Radar was nothing like it was today and offered a very different display than what we have today.” The biggest change at the National Weather Service since the horrific 1990 tornado that claimed 29 lives is the sheer knowledge of how to forecast these devastating storms. Back then, tornado prediction was a relatively young science, Bardou explained. The proximity of Romeoville to the Plainfield storm is not thought to have factored into the location of the NWS site. Instead, the high flat land of the area made it perfect for the placement of radar and the reason the station was built. However, that 1990 tornado did lead to the creation of a new NWS position, warning coordinator meteorologist, which Bardou currently holds. “This was something that was being worked out nationwide, but as a result of the Plainfield tornado, Romeoville was the first location to add this position,” said Bardou.

"Our knowledge since then has increased immeasurably." - Mike Bardou warning coordinator meteorologist

Working as a liaison between those forecasting and reporting the weather to the general public, the position of warning coordinator meteorologist was created to build communication at the local, state and federal levels. The position also helped improve education. The number of training sessions offered to an important network of storm spotters across the state, counties and villages increased. The Romeoville Emergency Management Agency recently trained additional spotters for the area. In fact, REMA responder Sgt. Ted Kruczek provided severe weather spotter certification to officers of the Forest Preserve District of Will County Police in July. “It is the overall goal to eliminate unnecessary siren activation by providing the information spotters can use to filter out what ‘looks bad’ from actual threats,” Kruczek said. “Will County residents will be well served by this group of newly certified spotters.” Spotters know what cloud formations to look for and signs in the sky that may point to a tornado and know how to disseminate the information. Spotters look at cloud features, rotations, wall clouds, hail and forecasts, all to factor in on whether or not a potential tornado can happen. In the past, most were limited in how to get the word out in case of a severe weather event. Today, people are more aware of what to look for and are more apt to send out messages via social message, explained Bardou.

where we stand

A more accurate forecast


n addition to this network of storm spotters, the technology used to predict and track tornadoes has improved dramatically in the past two decades. The NWS uses an advanced computer modeling system that can track a storm and show how a tornado develops. Due to advances in research since the 1990s, scientists can now map out how a tornado forms and its path, allowing for the NWS to get warnings out faster. In 1990, the average response time before a tornado hit the ground was approximately 3.4 minutes. Today, it has more than tripled, giving on average 13 minutes of lead time before a tornado hits. At the time of the 1990 Plainfield tornado,

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later |

the NWS did not even know the tornado existed until it hit the ground. Of the three major advancements in detecting tornadoes today, compared with 25 years ago, Bardou said understanding the storm and its environment is paramount. “Our knowledge since then has increased immeasurably,” said Bardou. Secondly, technology has advanced to include Doppler radar and computer modeling that helps create a more accurate forecast. In addition to the increased lead time in reporting a tornado, the accuracy also has dramatically increased. In 1990, the NWS accuracy rate was 35 percent on average. Thanks to technology and communication, Bardou said accuracy is currently up to 70 percent. According to retired meteorologist Jim Allsopp, the NWS was using 1974 radar technology in the 1990s, which was a solid state version of the 1957 radar design. The forecast office was located in Rosemont but the radar was located remotely in Marseilles. Warning forecasters could only view the base radar display on a TV monitor. Details of what the radar operators were

seeing had to be relayed in radar summary products or by phone. In an NWS report, Allsopp explained that prior to the use of Doppler technology radar operators could determine that the storm was an intense supercell but were not able to determine the presence of the strong rotation indicative of a tornado. Today, the NWS uses state of the art Doppler radar technology. The radar, which is co-located at the forecast office in Romeoville, has higher resolution, more power and Doppler capability unavailable in 1990. The Doppler radar not only produces dozens of products for analysis of precipitation, it can also detect wind motion in a storm and point out the intense circulation in a tornadic storm. In addition to the Romeoville radar, NWS forecasters have access to the Federal Aviation Administration’s terminal Doppler radars, which serve O’Hare and Midway airports, as well as other nearby radars in the NWS network. Allsopp added that the Doppler radar used by the NWS was upgraded to dual-polarity, which gives forecasters greater capability to detect hail and flood producing rain.

Images Courtesy of the National Weather Service

eyes on the sky T

he third factor, according to Bardou, is communication and simply getting the word out when a potential storm is imminent. “That means spotters and ground troops who give the report and may spot activity,” he said. “Now, there is a system in place to get that information passed onto the public.” A network of organizations throughout towns and counties in Illinois have initiated programs to train weather spotters. Additionally, educating the public on how to prepare for severe weather and when to get to safety is another important aspect of being prepared.

Though the NWS services all areas, having a NWS satellite office in the area is a definite plus, as radar works best the closer it is to the source. “We are always watching all the surrounding areas, though being local you do have more experience with the area,” said Bardou. The relationship between NWS and local organizations in the area, including police and fire departments, and the training sessions with those groups is also important. But, the most important lesson learned from the 1990 tornado is the importance of paying attention to not only the improved radar but to the warning signals, as well. While forecasting and communication have

vastly improved, Bardou stressed that people still need to take heed of warnings. “Research shows that now it takes multiple warnings, be it social media, television or radio for people to stop and listen,” he said. “We can’t stress enough to be weather aware and have a plan should a tornado occur.”

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| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR

severe weather 101

Tornadoes are the most violent of all atmospheric storms. It can be hard to see a tornado unless it forms a funnel made up of water droplets, dust and debris. Tornadoes occur all over the world, including the other continents besides North America. The two highest concentrations of tornadoes outside the U.S. are Argentina and Bangladesh.

Tornadoes occur most often in the northern plains and upper Midwest, during June or July. but, tornadoes can occur at any time of year. most tornadoes occur between 4 to 9 p.m., but again, they can occur at any time.

Roughly 1,200 tornadoes hit the U.s. each year. tornado alley is a nickname invented by the media for a broad area of relatively high tornado activity in the central U.s.

65 to 85 mph 86 to 110 mph 111 to 135 mph 136 to 165 mph 166 to 200 mph over 200 mph

prepare for a tornado •

Tornado strength is partially determined by the damage it caused. An “Enhanced Fujita Scale” was implemented by the National Weather Service in 2007 to rate tornadoes in a more consistent and accurate manner. The EF-Scale takes into account more variables than the original Fujita Scale (F-Scale) when assigning a wind speed rating to a tornado, incorporating 28 damage indicators such as building type, structures and trees.

When the National Weather Service issues a tornado Watch, it means that tornadoes are possible in or near the watch area. You should be prepared to act quickly if a warning is issued. Watch areas are usually larger, and cover several counties.


A tornado WarnIng means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by radar. You should take action and move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building. Warnings are issued by the local forecast office and usually encompass a small area, like cities or towns. Warnings mean that there is imminent danger.


during a thunderstorm, you should listen to local news or a noaa Weather Radio to stay informed. You should also know how your community sends warning. some communities have sirens, others depend on media to alert residents. pick a tornado safe room in your home. it should be a basement, storm cellar

during a tornado, the safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement or safe room. if those are not available, go to a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a building. mobile homes are not safe to be in during a tornado.

or interior room on the lowest floor. make sure all members of your family know where the tornado safe room. • Families can also conduct tornado drills regularly so everyone knows what to do. • Your family should also have a plan that includes an emergency meeting place or contact cards to be carried.

during a tornado •

if you are driving, try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. if you cannot find one, you can stay in the car with the seat belt on and put your head down below the windows, covering your head with hands or a blanket. • You can also get lower than the roadway, in a ditch, and lie down, covering your head with your hands.

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| RemembeRing the 1990 toRnado 25 YeaRs LateR |


severe weather 101 (cont.)


1 7

Thunderstorms produce lightning, which can kill. heavy rain can cause flash flooding, and winds can damage homes h omes or cause power outages. o utages.



If weather is severe, you should listen to local news or NOAA Weather radio for updates. Watch for signs of a storm.


A thunderstorm is categorized as severe if it produces hail that is at least 1 inch in diameter or has wind gusts of 58 mph.


If you hear thunder, go indoors. Lightning could strike, and keep away from windows.

7 things to Know



abOut tOrnadOes & tOrnadO safety

If you are driving, try to exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle until heavy rain disperses.

A tornado is a violent rotating column of air that extends from the base of a thunderstorm down to the ground. They are capable of destroying structures, uprooting trees and hurling objects. Tornadoes can occur at any time.

6 six




During a tornado, the safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement or safe room.

If you cannot reach a safe building, avoid high ground, water, trees and metal objects.




after a tornado, you should continue to listen to local news or a noaa Weather Radio. if you aren’t at home, don’t return until authorities give the okay. some debris from the tornado may be sharp or dangerous. if you are walking through a tornado site, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes.






Watch for fallen power lines or broken gas lines. Report any downed lines to the local power company. if you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building. once everyone is out, call the gas company or fire department. do not use a portable generator inside your home or garage. Carbon



monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of death after storms when areas are dealing with power outages. You should only use the telephone for emergency calls so rescue operation lines aren’t tied up. Check for injuries. if you are trained, provide first aid to victims in need until emergency responders arrive.

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plainfield tornado: the exhibit

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| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later

A Not So Far Away Look

Image Courtesy of Joliet Area Historical Museum

Museum exhibit chronicles ‘8 minutes’ that forever changed the area By Jonathan Samples Managing Editor


lot of work goes into putting a museum exhibit together. First, museum staff must research the topic, compile photos and still images, acquire 3D artifacts, and put it all together into a structured, informative and thought provoking narrative. All together, the process can take years, even when the exhibit’s subject occurred in a matter of moments. Heather Bigeck of the Joliet Area Historical Museum and staff recently embarked on this complexandchallengingprocess in an exhibit commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1990 tornado – a storm that not only devastated several communities in Will County but left a deep and irreversible mark on the history of the area. The result of their work, “Eight Minutes in August,” tells the history of the three towns – Plainfield, Crest

Hill and Joliet – most affected by the storm, and the scientific and historical significance of what is thought to be the strongest and most anomalous tornado to hit the Chicago metropolitan area, and harrowing tales of the people whose lives were forever changed one August day more than two decades ago. “It’s so surreal sounding, but it was officially a tornado for 8 minutes,” said Bigeck, who is the collections and exhibits manager at the museum. “When you think about what it [destroyed] over 16 miles, and in some points it was half a mile wide up to 1 mile wide, it’s just devastating.” She explained that the exhibit, which opened earlier this month, was designed so that visitors could have an educational and sensory experience of that day – Aug. 28, 1990. Beginning with a historical snapshot of Plainfield, Crest Hill and Joliet and culminating with the exhibit’s namesake event, the museum also looks at the storm from a meteorological and scientific perspective.

Photo by Jonathan Samples | Managing Editor

Those elements meant it was important for the exhibit to introduce and define many of the scientific terms used throughout. “It’s kind of the first time we’ve used more scientific terms versus history terms in an exhibit,” Bigeck said. So, we really wanted to define all these terms up front, so when people see them throughout the gallery they understand what they’re reading.” Bigeck and her colleagues even experimented with lighting in order to recreate the erie yellowish-green sky often recalled by the people who experienced the storm first hand. Greg Peerbolte, the museum’s executive director, said staff paid a lot of attention to the scientific ramifications of the storm,

which remain an important and puzzling part of its history. The fact that the storm was such an irregular and powerful tornado so late in the season is still not fully understood by meteorologists. “It was just a mysterious phenomenon,” Peerbolte explained. “That’s the point we’re getting at. It’s still being talked about 25 years later. From a meteorological standpoint, it kind of broke all the rules.” Peerbolte explained that Doppler radar, which is a household name today, was much less prevalent in the 1990s. When a funnel cloud first touched down in the Wheatland Plains Subdivision in Plainfield , both residents and meteorologists were caught off guard. The tornado started its destructive march across Will

where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later | Image Courtesy of JAHM

Image Courtesy of JAHM

Line forms for a WGN Radio and Television fundraiser at Joliet’s Rialto Theatre, which raised more than $50,000 in ticket sales.

"It's still being talked about 25 years later. From a meteorological standpoint, it kind of broke all the rules." - Greg Peerbolte, JAHM executive Director County at 3:30 p.m., but the National Weather Service did not issue its first tornado warning until 3:51 p.m. – 13 minutes after the twister had retreated. “We should have know this was coming, but it still took 29 lives,” Peerbolte said. At the time, the average tornado warning was issued 5 minutes in advance of these deadly phenomenon. Bigeck explained that the average lead time is now closer to 15 minutes. Many of the technological breakthroughs that made these advanced warnings possible are detailed in the exhibit, including modern dual-polarization radar. (See ‘Weathering the storm’ on Page 16 A year after the tornado, the National

Weather Service opened a location in nearby Romeoville, which vastly improved the meteorologists’ ability to accurately predict and track severe weather in the area. On June 22 of this year, a series of 12 tornadoes occurred across northern Illinois, including an EF-3 tornado that touched down in Coal City. That tornado had maximum winds of 160 mph and caused millions of dollars worth of property damage, but it claimed zero lives. “I saw the damage. Houses were ripped off of their foundations,” Peerbolte remembered. “It could have very easily been a killer tornado, but they had 10-15 minute warning.”

Image Courtesy of JAHM

National Guard assists in recovery efforts.

plainfield tornado: the exhibit

in August

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| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later Image Courtesy of The Joliet Area

plainfield tornado: the exhibit

Historical Museum

Photo by Jonathan Samples

Collective Memory I

n addition to the museum, a number of other groups in Joliet and Plainfield are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the tornado. They include the Plainfield Historical Society, St. Mary Immaculate Parish, Plainfield Public Library and Plainfield School District 202. The museum worked with these groups to find artifacts and photos, but also to gather firsthand accounts of the storm in order to give the exhibit a strong and human element. Because many of the people affected by the tornado are still alive today, Bigeck said the museum had to take a delicate approach when recounting an event as recent as 1990. “We were just really sensitive about it, and we asked ourselves how can we properly present this,” Bigeck said. “It’s recent history, people are still alive and it’s still a very hot and sensitive topic for some

people.” Still, the relative proximity of the event to the present also played a role in the ultimate decision to pursue the exhibit. Peerbolte said the museum began to consider an exhibit to coincided with the 25th anniversary more than a year ago. As those talks progressed, it became clear to museum staff that the history of that day had to be told. “Everytime we we would even float the idea of doing this to someone, they would stop and they would tell us exactly where they were and what they were doing,” Peerbolte said. “So, that kind of tipped us off that this was a big thing, and this was a very impactful and meaningful story for people.” Because it is recent history, some people were unwilling to share their stories or lend artifacts. But with the help of its community partners, the museum was able to acquire the materials it needed to create “Eight Minutes in August.”

Heather Bigeck of the Joliet Area Historical Museum assembles artifacts from the 1990 tornado.

“So we reached out to the Plainfield area and people we knew were affected by it the most and kind of getting their support,” Bigeck said. St. Mary Immaculate, which held a two-day exhibit of its own, donated many of the exhibits 3D artifacts used in the exhibit. Stained glass found miles away from the church and bricks from Plainfield High School help to illustrate the destructive power of these storms. The Plainfield library and historical society also contributed many photos and stories, which Peerbolte described as artifacts in their own right. “So it was not without its challenges, but I think at the end of the day it was very rewarding and very therapeutic for people,” Peerbolte said.

In many ways, the process of working on the exhibit is emblematic of the friendship and camaraderie people displayed in the aftermath of the storm. Bigeck said it was these types of stories that helped her process such a sad moment in the area’s history. “It didn’t matter what your religion was, what your color was, what your orientation was everybody was helping everybody and to me that was the beauty that came out of this tragedy,” she said. The exhibit “Eight Minutes in August” runs through Nov. 20 at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St., Joliet. To find out more about the history of the 1990 tornado and the museum, visit

where we stand

| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later |

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open forbusiness

Restaurant owner recalls experiences of 1990 tornado By Andrea Earnest |

Assistant Editor


hen Nabby’s Restaurant and Catering opened April 4, 1990, coowner Mike Vitullo did have some worries.

He knew that Plainfield was located in an area where tornadoes where common, but never imagined the destruction that one of these storms would cause in his community. “It was one of the busiest days we’ve ever had,” Vitullo said, remembering Aug. 28, 1990. He added that residents and many news people came to the restaurant the day after the tornado. Nabby’s was able to open as normal Aug. 29, and Vitullo remembers actually being there the day before, as the F5 tornado crossed Route 59 less than 1 mile south of the dinner. The restaurant closed at 5:30 p.m. that day, allowing workers to head home early and check on their families and houses. “I took a walk to the high school,” Vitullo said. “The devastation was indescribable.”

Enterprise File Photos

Co-owners Mike Vitullo, right, and Paul Hamiti opened their restaurant on April 4, 1990. When the restaurant, located at 14802 Michigan St., opened on schedule the next day, it was standing alone with White Hen (now a 7/11 gas station). “We left prices as they were,” Vitullo added. He explained that some business jacked up prices, since many residents needed supplies or food. He said that the restaurant tried to give away what they could if people needed something. “It’s something you don’t forget,” he said. Co-owners Vitullo and Paul Hamiti held a 25th anniversary celebration for the restaurant last year.

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| Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later

Where We Stand - 25th Anniversary of the Plainfield, IL Tornado 082815  

Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later

Where We Stand - 25th Anniversary of the Plainfield, IL Tornado 082815  

Remembering the 1990 Tornado 25 Years Later