Reminiscences of June, a Traveling Grandmother
1965, May 6th - June and The Fridley Tornadoes
- Published on Thursday, 29 May 2008 18:54
- Written by Stanton O. Berg
(One of of the two main Fridley Tornadoes arriving from the southwest as seen from across Moore Lake in Fridley. The right arrow appears to be pointing to the approximate position of the Fridley Senior High School. - Star Tribune Photo)
June and Stan Berg's first home in Fridley in 1957 on Washington Street (6361 Washington Street) was later seriously damaged in two tornadoes that struck Fridley (one hour apart) on Thursday May 6th 1965. Washington Street at June's home was only a block long running north and south and just below Mississippi St. The Fridley Commons Park was in the next block south of June's home and at the end of Washington Street.
One of the local papers described the events as “Suburbia’s Longest Night.” The U.S. Weather Bureau recorded a total of 6 tornadoes in an 11 county area that included the Twin Cities. The duration of the tornadoes was from 6:27 to 9:20 PM. The greatest damage was concentrated around the Twin Cities. While Minneapolis was largely untouched, the suburbs to the south west, west and north of the Twin Cities were heavily battered. Extensive damage took place in the suburbs of Fridley, Blaine, Spring Lake Park, Mounds View, Chanhassen, Minnetonka, Golden Valley, Navarre, Deephaven and Wayzata
The Weather Bureau uses the Fujita Scale to measure the strength or intensity of Tornadoes. The scale has 5 levels. F0 to F5. (40-72 mph winds to 261-318 mph winds.) F0 has winds of 40-72 mph. F5 has winds of 261 to 318 mph. F0 to F1 are described as weak tornadoes. F2 to F3 are said to be Strong Tornadoes. F4 to F5 are described as Violent Tornadoes. The weather Bureau classified both Fridley Tornadoes as F4 Tornadoes. (207 to 260 mph winds.)
Tornadoes caused National attention to be focused on Fridley
While I saw no evidence of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s presence on scene following the tornado’s, there certainly were considerable other politicians, national and state government officials wandering Fridley’s devastation.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey addressed a crowd assembled at Fridley Commons (immediately south of June’s home):
“I have never seen anything like it. I’ve seen many disaster areas but never one as bad as this that I can remember…the damage I’ve seen is comparable to a war, and I give you my good wishes, my best hopes and my prayers.”
Humphrey’s tour was accompanied by Governor Karl Rolvaag, Senator Walter Mondale and Mrs. Humphrey. Senator Eugene McCarthy also toured the area. They all pledged prompt federal aid to the disaster sufferers.
The National Guard was out in force to protect and prevent looting.
I would hope that the next time Fridley is the center of State and National attention, it is under happier circumstances.
(Photo lower right is June and Stan's Home at 6361 Washington Street NE a few days later, showing temporary repairs and boarded windows. The garage door opening is askew due to the concrete floor being separated from the side of the house.)
Because the path of two of the tornadoes included Fridley and because these two tornadoes actually crossed in the center of Fridley, the damage to Fridley was by far the most extensive. 425 homes were reported to be totally demolished and another 1099 were damaged.
Many businesses were destroyed including heavy damage to the Northern Ordnance Plant and Midland Cooperatives. Damage to the Fridley schools was extensive including the Junior High School, the Senior High School, Hayes elementary and Parkview elementary. One of the newspaper headlines described the Fridley damage as “Utter Devastation.”
June's church, the Redeemer Lutheran Church was set up as an after the storm shelter. The church collected clothing for children who had lost theirs in the storm. One newspaper account pictured small children trying on clothing at the church. June was proud that her church was in the forefront in providing aid to the community following the storm.
While World War II is described as the big one when discussing wars, the Fridley tornado is also described as the “big one” when discussing Minnesota tornadoes. There has never been a Minnesota Tornado this deadly or of this magnitude, causing such a loss of life and injuries since the tornado of 23 June 1919 that struck Fergus Falls killing 59 people. Nor have any this deadly struck subsequent to the Fridley Tornadoes.
At around 6:00 PM, the storn could be seen approaching from the southwest as a huge bank of greenish dark clouds with lightening glows from within. When the tornado struck, June and Stan's family was all huddled in the basement except for son Dan. Dan (then age 16) was a few houses away baby-sitting for a neighbor (The Engstroms) during the storm. June had already issued instructions to Dan on the phone, to "take the children to the southwest corner of the basement and wait out the storm."
(Photo lower right is view of June and Stan's home from the southwest showing boarded over hole on south end of roof - shown with temporary repairs.)
The first tornado to arrive in central Fridley was recorded on the stopped Fridley City Hall clock at 7:10 PM. June knew that the storm hit the home when the electric power transformers on the corner of the lot blew out in a flash of red. Simultaneously a puff of dirt and dust blew down the clothes chute. Amid the roaring of the storm, the house sounded like it was being battered to pieces.
In a few minutes the storm passed and a total silence followed. The silence was broken by a lady’s screams. It was never determined who the lady was or whether her scream was the result of injury or anguish on seeing the results of the storm on her home.
June and Stan's home had most of the windows blown out including the large picture window on the west side and the large windows in the family room. A section of the top rear (south) of the roof was torn away exposing the attic area. The front lawn contained hundreds of sticks that were driven into the lawn at an angle from the southwest. Some object had plowed a furrow across the lawn leading up to the homes foundation where it had smashed the concrete blocks. While the damage to June's home was severe, the home could be repaired and restored. A few months later such repairs were completed. Many other homes had damage so severe that they had to be demolished and an entirely new structure built on the old foundation. One area just a few blocks to the north of June and Stan's home in the Rice Creek neighborhood, had total destruction and devastation down to the foundations.
Before the 1st storm arrival, June prayed aloud for the safety of the family. God certainly answered her prayers and the family escaped unharmed. Unfortunately many others in the storm‘s path did not fare as well. The U. S. Weather Bureau records indicate that 13 people were killed and 683 people were injured.
Following the first tornado the family gathered in the back yard to discuss the situation with some of the neighbors. One neighbor’s garage was in June's backyard. Suddenly someone shouted, “There is another one coming.” The family immediately returned to the basement. Northern Ordnance Plant recorded the arrival of the second tornado at 8:10 PM. This tornado did even greater damage to the home and resulted in the attached garage floor being detached from the main foundation and moved away from the house foundation approx. 1/2 foot leaving the door opening askew.
Note: There were rumors that three (3) separate tornados had struck Fridley...this is clearly untrue...June and Stan's home was centrally located in Fridely. Following the 1st tornado there was a period of quiet and a lull in which the Berg's and their neighbors were outside discussing the damage when news of another(2nd) approaching tornado was received...all retreated again to their basements...the 2nd one appeared to be more severe and did greater damage to the Berg home...There was not a 3rd tornado...early the next moring there was a heavy thunderstorm and downpour of rain in which the Berg's attempted to use sheets to prevent the heavy rain from entering the home through the destroyed picture windows...this was simply a normal heavy thunderstorm and not a tornado by any means..
(June and Stan's backyard neighbors - 1st home has large hole in the roof. 2nd home on right is half missing..part of garage was in June's yard. These homes are fronting on Jefferson Street.- Cleaning up the back yard a few days after the storm.)
The following morning a heavy rainstorm drenched Fridley. This event was very demoralizing to an already battered and unprotected community. June and the family struggled to hold a large sheet over the missing picture window to keep some of the torrents of rain out of the living room. With the large hole in the south portion of the roof, this rain also poured into the attic area of the home. To the family’s relief, State Farm Insurance Co. sent out a building contractor with temporary repair facilities at around noon on that Friday morning following the storm. June, Stan and the family were all very happy to see the State Farm truck pull up outside, loaded with plywood, tarpaper and other building supplies. June and the family while thankful for the quick assistance, felt a little awkward and almost embarrassed to get such immediate attention from our insurance company when others with as much damage or more severe damage did not get assistance from their companies for some time...perhaps days later. State Farm was required to obtain special permission to come into the area as all of Fridley was blocked off and guarded by the Minnesota National Guard, quickly mobilized to protect the properties from looting. There was also danger from downed power lines and debris in the streets. One neighbor with very severe damage had not heard from their insurance company a month later. They were insured by an some obscure company with home offices in a western state. They probably had a great homeowners insurance rate but that company was not there for the family when most needed. The windows and the hole in the roof were quickly boarded over with large sheets of plywood and tarpaper. Power was not restored for a few days thereafter.
Because of the damage to the home and the lack of power, June sent the children to their Grandpa and Grandma Rolstad’s farm near Cameron, Wisconsin for a few days. During the confusion following the storm, our son Dan was never paid for his baby-sitting services. Dan has jokingly wondered what his services plus compounded interest would add up to at the present time.
Even during tragic times such as these, Fridley residents did not lose their sense of humor. A few doors away from our home was a devastated home with a sign out side that read: "Wild Parties Every Thursday Night."
The Berg's oldest son David graduated from Fridley High School with the class of 1965 in the year of the tornado. Because of the damage to the Fridley High School, the graduation ceremonies were held in Brooklyn Center. Dave began attendance at the University of Minnesota beginning the fall of 1965. Because of the needs and responsibilities of a young married man, Dave later dropped out of the University in his 4th year, a few credits short of graduation.
(Photo below of Neighbors home across the street (Washginton) and immediately south west of June and Stan's home - Damage was far more severe and un-repairable.)
After the Washington Street home was repaired, it was decided to sell the home and build a new home on a small hill in the eastern part of Fridley just east of Moore Lake. The family was very nervous about tornadoes and had heard (correctly or incorrectly) that tornadoes did not go onto hills.
The new home at 6025 Gardena Lane, became June's final and most loved home. That home was completed in July of 1966.
June lived in the 6025 Gardena Lane home for almost 40 years before Alzheimer's took over her life and she moved to a nursing facility March 16th, 2005. June passed away from the complications of Azlheimer's on 23 October 2008.
See the poem about June and her home at 6025 Gardena Lane. This poem and story is found on this website on the top blue navigation strip under the label "June's Life." This label has a drop down menu that displays: "6025 Gardena Lane." Just click on that item on the drop down menu. Pictures are also included with the poem.
For direct connection to the poem site,
The tornado damaged neighborhood was a hazard to car tires and continued to be such for several months after the tornadoes. June and her neighbors would continually be getting flat tires from the building nails scattered about by the storm that were once a part of the damaged buildings. Some may have been the result of the huge building efforts and the repair projects going on continually for months after the storms. A year later one could hardly see any evidence of what had once been an area of massive damage and destruction. The quick restoration of the community was almost miraculous when one compares it to the snails pace restoration that later took place and is still taking place in New Orleans.
Our son Dan later graduated in a new Fridley High School with the class of 1967 while living at the Gardena Lane home. Dan subsequently graduated from the University of Minnesota in June 1971 with a BS degree. Susan also graduated from the Fridley High School Class in 1971. Susan later (June 1973) graduated from Anoka Ramsey Junior College with an AA degree. Julie graduated from the Fridley High School Class of 1976.
(Lower right photo - area is just a few blocks north of June and Stan''s home - Rice Creek area of Fridley - the devastation was total and complete down to the foundations...only the fireplace remains on this home- such destruction involved entire blocks of homes)
(Aerial View of Fridley Tornado damage in the area north of June's home on Washington Street. This shows Washington Street area a few blocks North of Mississippi Street. This is near the area shown in the above color picture. Damage was very extensive!)
Kelly J. Klein - (January 15, 2011): "Mr. Berg, thank you for posting the memories of your wife's memories on facebook. I just found the site today and was fascinated and really enjoyed the story. I was 4 years old at the time and one of my memories of that time was after the tornado, my mom and gramma came home from the church with a huge box of clothes and toys for us, and I thought it was Christmas but there was no tree and it was summertime! Our home didn't have very much damage, but my mom had left my alcoholic father and had 4 children under the age of 7 and we didn't have much, and besides the clothes, I remember getting a barbie doll-sized Honey West doll, and I thought it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. In reading the story today, I realize that the box must have come from your wife's church. That doll was my first "barbie doll" and I had a daughter who also loves Barbies and now my 3 year old granddaughter loves them too. I'm an RN at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and just wanted to let you know that your wife probably affected my life and thanks so much for sharing it. Kelly K."
Steve Phillips - (23 May 2013): "Mr. Berg, my family lived next door at 6351 Washington St. N.E. I was 4-years old when the tornadoes hit, the youngest of 6 kids. My parents are Jack (age 87) and Audrey (age 85), both still alive and today living in Coon Rapids, MN. I spent that summer living with relatives in Duluth while our home was re-built. I do remember "riding" on my dad's shoulders while he walked through the neighborhood to survey the extensive damage."
Susan Berglin German - (23 May 2013): "This is a fascinating account. Thank you for sharing."
Nancy Nelson Porter - Louisville, Kentucky - (19 March 2012): "My father saw this tornado hit the drive in theatre and cross the lake from where he was working at Shorewood. This may be the one that hit our house."
Mark Wolsfeld - Big Lake, Minnesota - (15 March 2012): "That is a really interesting story of a tragic night Mr. Berg."
Jh Nebel - (15 March 2012): "Hi Mr Berg... Great story!"
Jennifer Foxhoven - Minneapolis, Minnesota - (1 April 2015):"Thank you to all of you that have shared stories and pictures of that terrible night frown emoticon ! I was not born yet when it happened and didn't move to Fridley until 1974, it really is fascinating to hear your guys' accounts of the events that happened on May 6. It is amazing to look around and realize how much hard work went into rebuilding Fridley to what it is today, and for that I say "thank you" and also "I am so sorry " to all of you that lost your homes and/or loved ones that evening, you have my deepest sympathies frown emoticon ! I look forward to hearing more at the 50th anniversary gathering, God bless all of you!"
Karen Briesemeister- Fridley, Minnesota - (9 May 2015): "Stan, This page on June's website has an excellent description and excellent photos of the Fridley tornadoes. I had read it before, but read it again on May 6th. I also attended the remembrance event at the high school that evening. There was a huge crowd! I arrived at 5:40 for the 6:00 event and found the high school parking lot full, but was able to get one of the last parking spots at the middle school. Then I got one of the last available seats in the auditorium. There were four featured speakers (former fire chief, high school principal, Mounds View mayor, and WCCO radio announcer.) They all described their experiences on the night of the tornadoes and the following days. That was followed by an open microphone opportunity and Dale Stone stepped up and told that his father had been the pastor at Redeemer at that time. He briefly told about some of the help Redeemer provided. It was a surprise to see him since I had no idea he was still living in this area. It was a very interesting evening and the Fridley Historical Society is to be commended for organizing the event. Karen."
Notes: Readers are encouraged to read/review other chapter's (31 chapters) in this story of June K. Berg's life. (Reminiscences of a Traveling Grandmother) Each chapter is intended to be a capsule view of a small segment of June's life and travels'. It is also intended to be a small segment of history from a time period of World War II and the periods both pre and post World War II. You will find the history is accurate and continues to be updated as new records and photographs become available.
June, a very humble person would never consider her life worthy of a story. To me June has been a lady for "All Seasons". A very unique, bright and highly principled Christian lady. While June like everyone, has likes and dislikes, I have never found her to be uninterested or bored with any thing that life has presented her. June was well traveled. She traveled to Europe eleven (11) times and made at least 100 trips in and around the United States. Most such travel was in relation to forensic science matters. June would be included in Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation."
It has taken the horror of Alzheimer's to awaken me to finally and fully plumb the depths, and scope of June's Character, Spirit and Being. After battling Alzheimer's for almost 11 years, an exhausted June was finally called home by God on October 23rd, 2008. Her funeral notice as published in the Minneapolis Star in October 2008 can be seen on this website under the "In Memoriam" label -
June's funeral notice as published in the Minneapolis Star in October 2008 can be seen on this website under the "In Memoriam" label - or Click on: