By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Fourteen-year-old Wesley Wiedenroth gazed outside his backseat car window. Most of the fields were still bare, since the spring of 1965 had been too cold and wet for planting.
May 6, however, was unusually hot and humid.
Paper and dust circled the sky as the Wiedenroth family car approached the farm on 190th Street and Cable Avenue near Lester Prairie.
Before the family had time to go outside for chores, Wiedenroth saw it a big, brown, swirling mass of debris-cluttered wind about half a mile away.
“I went back into the house and told my family what was happening,” he said.
As the tornado passed through, Wiedenroth’s sisters and mother were heading down the steps to the basement, and his father was holding the door open for them.
Wiedenroth’s grandfather, on the other hand, couldn’t resist taking a peek outside.
“He just stood out there, amazed as it went by,” Wiedenroth recalled.
Other than a few damaged trees, the farm was basically unscathed.
“We were at the end of it,” Wiedenroth said.
The Schmalz farm north of Lester Prairie was also lucky, with only minor wind damage.
Nathan Schmalz, who was 10 at the time, left school about 4 p.m. that day. He remembers being excited that there was a tractor-driving job waiting for him at home.
As he was cultivating, it began to hail. He decided to continue driving until he got hit in the head by one of the golf ball-sized pellets, which happened fairly quickly. After that, he shut off the tractor and sat under it for protection until his dad came out in the old farm truck to rescue him.
Path of destruction
The twister first touched down south of Glencoe, continuing northeast near McLeod County Road 1 to Highway 7.
In Bergen Township, the destruction started at the home of Henry Richter, where it took the roof of his barn and damaged other buildings, according to the Lester Prairie centennial book.
Albert Teubert barely managed to escape into his basement before the tornado swept the house he was renting off its foundation.
Several people were injured in the storm. George Studemann, for example, had been in the barn milking at the time, and his wife had taken refuge in the pantry. The centennial book reports that all the buildings on their property were smashed, and the couple was taken to the hospital in serious condition.
Albert Wolters and a neighbor, Theodore Kuhlmann, were also doing farmwork, and became trapped underneath a barn. Wolters freed himself, and neighbors Harold Severson and Neil Dossett helped untangle Kuhlmann from the rubble.
Wiedenroth remembers a neighbor, Pauline Brinkmeier, running to his family’s farm after she was hurt by flying debris.
“She had been down in the basement, I believe, but the house was gone,” Wiedenroth said.
Church and school
At 6:45 p.m., the tornado devastated St. Peter Lutheran Church and school in rural Lester Prairie. Wiedenroth remembers going to the site the next day, and seeing the principal outside, trying to salvage school records from the file cabinets.
“It pretty much looked like a demolition site,” Wiedenroth said.
All that was left of the church were the front steps, and the church bell was found in the basement.
As for the school, not much was salvageable, except some books and chairs.
Schmalz remembers digging through the wreckage and recovering his dad’s army-issue New Testament Bible, which, like most items in the basement, had some water damage due to rain after the tornado.
Cleanup from the twister seemed to last “forever,” Wiedenroth recalled.
“There were boards with nails, glass, and personal possessions from neighbors,” he said. “If it wasn’t totally destroyed, we made a point of getting it back to the owners.”
Experiencing a tornado can be life-altering, according to Wiedenroth.
“Every victim had a different story,” he said. “Some of the farmyards were just swept clean. At some of them, portions of the house remained.”
The Lester Prairie tornado was one of six that passed through the area that day, winding their way from Glencoe to Chanhassen.
About 2,500 homes and farms were damaged, at a loss estimated at $52 million, according to the May 13, 1965 edition of the Lester Prairie Journal.
The May 13, 1965 edition of the Glencoe Enterprise reported that the tornadoes killed 17 people in Minnesota, the nearest being nationally-known Holstein breeder Raymond Perbix of rural Hamburg, who was found dead in his field.