By Emily Sundblad
COKATO, MN Twenty-five years ago, at roughly 11:15 p.m. June 16, 1992, a tornado tore through Cokato, leaving debris and destruction in its wake. Three people who lived in or around Cokato at the time shared their memories of that day.
The librarian’s story
Mary Ackerman, a Cokato resident, was the librarian for Cokato when the tornado swept through the town.
She recalled being home with her husband during the disaster. Ackerman said she noticed their cat start crawling on its belly and sneak into the basement. Knowing it was stormy, they decided to head down, too.
Soon after the tornado went through Cokato, at roughly 11:30 p.m., she received a call to go to the library and look at the damage. Windows had been broken and the carpet and books were full of glass. Volunteers came to help clean up the mess, clearing bookshelves and shaking glass out of the books. All the books and furniture had to be moved. This former librarian guessed the library was closed for six weeks after the storm.
But, Ackerman said, every cloud has a silver lining. The damage that was done by the tornado gave them a needed chance to update the library, and insurance helped pay for it.
“I probably brought the tornado on,” Ackerman joked. She is from the prairie and was not used to all the trees in Cokato, so she would complain about the trees and branches. After the storm, there were definitely fewer trees in Cokato. She said jokingly that she claims responsibility for the tornado.
The museum director’s memories
Former director of the Cokato Museum, Irene Bender also recalled her experience when the tornado went through Cokato.
Bender lived, and still does, in Dassel at that time, so she did not experience the tornado firsthand. She did remember receiving a phone call, though, that an alarm had gone off at the museum. Driving into Cokato was an eerie feeling, she said.
When Bender arrived at the museum, it was dark and she was not able to see much of the damage. She went to the Akerlund Photography Studio and noticed that the roof of the apartment behind the studio was gone and the wallpaper had come off.
The next morning, when Bender went to clean up, she saw the west corner of the Akerlund Studio had moved a few inches.
The former museum director commented that the clean-up work took long, hard hours, and volunteers came to help.
Fortunately, there was not a lot of damage to the items and artifacts. Bender said she was thankful there was not more damage to such a significant landmark as the Akerlund Studio.
A reporter’s experience
Amy Wilde, a Dassel resident who worked as a full-time reporter for the Enterprise Dispatch when the tornado happened, also did not experience the tornado, as she lived in Dassel at the time. However, she did observe firsthand the damage it left.
Wilde remembers standing in her kitchen that night. A strong wind blew the deck furniture off the deck and a hanging pot of flowers off its post. So, she, along with her husband and children, headed to their basement for shelter. Thankfully, their house suffered no harm in the storm.
The next morning, when Wilde went to work at the Cokato Enterprise Dispatch office, she realized the town had suffered significant damage. The roads were barricaded, so she had to drive into Cokato through a back road.
Upon unlocking the office, Wilde found the electricity had gone out, but the phone lines still worked. She proceeded to call her editor, who instructed Wilde to take pictures of the town.
Wilde spent the whole day taking pictures of the damage done to Cokato. At that time, they still took pictures on film, so the Dispatch’s film processor was extremely busy developing and processing film from the pictures Wilde and others took.
On Monday of that week the Enterprise Dispatch staff assembled the newspaper, and by Tuesday, they had already sold out. The staff found the negative sheets of that paper and made more because everyone seemed to want a copy.
Wilde recalled that this particular tornado was an odd weather phenomenon because tornadoes don’t usually form at night. She had heard that two storm cells which were weakening met near Cokato and formed the tornado. She guessed that the tornado was on or near the ground for about 12 miles.
The town suffered a lot of destruction, including to the elementary school, the Baptist church, and several businesses on Highway 12. But, Wilde said the town got together, and neighbor helped neighbor.