By ANDREA VARGO
"You could have heard a pin drop as the two bus loads of students pulled into the town of St. Peter," Friday, April 3, said teacher Kirby Klingelhofer.
All the other students echoed the same thoughts: "There was dead silence. Nobody talked. Everyone was really quiet," said the students.
Teachers Linda Kinziger, Darrin Sheggerud, Kirby Klingelhofer, Dale Decker, and two parent volunteers, Jean Miller and Patricia O'Connor accompanied the 60 plus students to the tornado ravaged city of St. Peter to help with the cleanup efforts.
Klingelhofer said, "This was truly a real-life eye-opener for all the students."
"As we worked, students continually commented about how much of what we have is taken for granted.
"They remarked on the extent of the devastation and how impressed they were to see people from all over the state travel to help people in need," he said.
For a while, the students worked on general clean-up, but then they approached a family, Kenneth and Elaine DeZeeuw, and asked to help them.
"The family whom we helped with clean-up had lived in St. Peter for 41 years," said Klingelhofer.
The job became much more personal when the students began cleaning the areas of homes and saw the impact they had upon the people.
Many students felt it was an invasion of privacy to view all the personal possessions which were scattered for miles around, he said.
Klingelhofer said the students worked very hard and were willing to help in any way.
They were left with personal impressions of the resilience of people and the compassion shown by the numbers of volunteers.
It appeared as if the clean-up was an impossible task, but they realized they could make a difference, especially in the lives of the couple they helped.
This was truly a "field trip" they will not forget, said Klingelhofer. Some of the students shared their thoughts of the experience.
I didn't realize how emotional the experience would be. I expected to have a (feeling of) separation from the actual homeowners.
We worked out there, blocks away from any home, and found family pictures and keepsakes these families had lost. Then, it was a different feeling.
When we worked personally with that family, I had a constant lump in my throat.
The appreciative and tearful look in their eyes for all the help was unforgettable.
It makes it all worth while when someone you don't know hugs you and cries, "Thank you! Bless you!"
When I watched the news when I returned home, I felt more compassion for the families.
I felt that even though I played such a little part in cleaning up, that it helped the family's piece of mind to know that we were so willing to help.
I started to put myself in the shoes of the affected families. If I saw all of my family's belongings scattered and broken, I would be terribly devastated.
There were broken toys everywhere. One Barbie doll stuck in my mind. Her matted hair and dirtied eyes explained the whole story.
You don't realize how you take everything for granted. I would feel pretty bad, if it happened to me. It was hard to see all the pictures and toys scattered around.
Going down to St. Peter was nothing I could ever imagine from the television.
When we worked with a family, I found it very hard to find their personal things scattered about. Just the thought of a person's whole life scattered all about the yard (was hard).
I was glad when we could find pictures and give them back. Pictures bring back memories, and it was nice to give those memories back.
On the news, only a couple of major parts were shown. I thought that was bad enough.
But once we got there and saw how widespread the destruction was, it seemed much worse.
Even the areas with little damage stand out.
We first worked in a ditch, helping clean up trees and scraps. That was fun.
All the people there worked together and got a lot done in a short period of time.
Everyone laughed, and talked, and just had fun, which made the situation a lot easier to handle.
When we got to work with the family, it was harder.
Some friends and I found old family pictures and returned them. When the woman started crying, it was hard not to join her.
I helped clean up their flower bed by picking up the debris and raking it out. Others cleaned the yard
When we left, it looked 10 times better than when we started only two hours earlier.
I never would have thought it was as bad as it was. That was the worst thing I have ever seen.
Those peoples lives were changed forever. Their whole life's work was gone in a few minutes.
When we helped that family clean their yard and house, I thought that I just made a little difference in these people's lives. I just wish that I could have helped longer. It was very hard for me to leave.
When I got to St. Peter, I was overwhelmed by the task at hand. Not in my wildest dreams could I predict all of that destruction.
I first felt that the help we provided was useless, because what we did was so small when compared to the size of the city.
But after we cleaned a ditch and a yard and saw how thankful the homeowners were, that made it all worthwhile.
After helping in St. Peter, I am more thankful for what I have. I think as a society we take things for granted.
Helping in St. Peter made me feel better about myself, because I knew my help was changing someone else's life.
The news broadcasts of St. Peter did the destruction no justice. Never before have I witnessed such a terrible tragedy of destruction and loss.
It made me feel good, however, to see how people from all over the state pulled together to help out.
Still, no matter how hard I tried to help clean up, I felt very helpless because it felt like I wasn't even making a dent in what needed to be done.
You could finish cleaning a small area and feel good, but then you would turn around and find another spot which could be worked on for another hour.
It was an all-around good experience though. If I had another chance to help, I would take it.
I couldn't believe how much of the town was destroyed. I pictured maybe just a strip or line of destruction, not the entire town.
I had heard rumors before we got there, about too many volunteers coming and not enough to do. I saw enough work for thousands of people. Our group alone worked on a small area for four hours, and although we made definite progress, it still looked like a tornado just ripped though there.
It was really impressive how the whole town was working together. I had the feeling that people weren't just working on their own property, everyone was helping everyone.
Houses were ripped off their foundations and sat just a few feet away, totally destroyed.
The most amazing thing, though, was the mass of total strangers, converging on the town to help the storm victims out of the kindness of their hearts.
There was no benefit for any of them to come, and yet, they did.
This shows that not all of the world is as corrupt or evil as the news stations would make us believe.
I thought that we'd be picking up a few things here and there, but it was way worse than I thought it would be.
It was nice to see so many people there helping them clean up. I was glad that I was able to help, because I would want the same thing, if I was in that situation.
The task of clearing the area of mess seemed almost impossible as we attempted to help. It was worse than I thought it ever could have been.
Entire houses were folded in upon their foundations, a garage had been ripped away from its house, but the house was left intact.
Cleaning up in St. Peter was definitely an experience.
The damages were just about as great as I had expected, however, the number of volunteers was actually greater than I thought it would be.
Our equipment could have contained saws and other usable tools, but I understand the liability for student's safety.
I think the trip was organized and led the best way possible.