Paddlefish 2022-2023 | The Birthday Storm

February 9, 2024

Lauren Stiefvater '25

Everyone dreams of their birthday as a special day filled with presents, cake, and attention. My sister’s 7th birthday was not a traditional birthday. May 30, 2011 was a day that changed my family’s life forever when a straight-line wind storm tore through our farm. Our farmyard went from a hustling operation in the middle of planting season to pieces of machinery crumpled and buildings torn apart. Even though we had several pieces of rubble to pick up and lost most of the farm structures, it was the way the community responded that changed our lives. 

My sister’s birthday, which happened to also be Memorial Day that year, was an average farm summer birthday. We were celebrating my sister’s birthday in the evening and invited my grandma out to the farm for cake and ice cream. We were singing happy birthday and opening gifts when the weather radio went off. Suddenly, we had a new shift of focus when the message of high winds and heavy rain followed the emergency alarms. We noticed the weather was changing to rain in our area with the hint of a severe windstorm setting in. Grandma decided to head home, and my dad told us we better start battening down the hatches of the farm for a storm.

My dad drove tractors into the sheds, backed augurs into the gaps between the bins, and put away other pieces of equipment the wind might take advantage of. My mom covered her flowers with buckets and mineral tubs in the hope of saving them from the wind. My two sisters and I gathered things around our house we wanted to keep safe. We gathered our favorite blankets and stuffed animals while in a complete panic because we did not understand what was happening around us. 

A dominant moment I remember from that evening happened after the weather moved it. All I could hear was rain hitting our house and the voice of the meteorologist on the television explaining where the tornado warning was. My mom, sisters, and I were sitting in our storm closet since funnel clouds were spotted in our county. We clinched tightly to our rosaries praying for safety from the storm. My dad was still upstairs watching out our bay window as the rain increased and wind speeds picked up. He saw the bins start to move towards the house and he came down to the basement. He stood on the top stair and said, “the farm is gone.” I instantly saw the fear in my parents’ faces. Our farm was damaged by the weather leaving us to pick up the pieces. 

After the straight-line winds passed and there was a steady rain, we all came upstairs to see the farm. It was dark outside, but all I could see was a shiny reflection next to our swing set. I was staring at a grain bin that was stopped by two trees before it would have destroyed our house. After we collected ourselves and counted our blessings for everyone being safe, we drove around as a family making sure others were safe. We knew the damage that happened on our farm but did not know the status of others' safety. Everyone was safe and the cattle were still standing in the pastures after we completed our check. We drove back into our yard, parked the truck, and went back into the house. My dad wandered around our yard trying to survey the damage in the dark, but not sure it was safe to continue. Within an hour of the storm, the McCook County Search and Rescue team showed up and a few other family friends to make sure we were safe. 

The next morning was complete chaos on the farm. We had almost 50 people in our yard ready to help us start the cleanup process. The National Weather Service sent out meteorologists to survey the damage concluding it to be caused by straight-line winds of 80 to 110 miles per hour. My dad completed an interview that day with the Mitchell Republic newspaper giving a recap of the events. The Mitchell Republic quotes the damage as “a war zone after straight-line winds toppled three-grain bins, tore open two machine sheds, shredded the tops of two silos, and damaged four augers, a grain cart, and a grain dryer.” (Mitchell Republic) 

A war zone was a true description of how our farm looked, but as in any war, an army is standing by. Our community was our army, ready to help us in any way we needed. They came into our yard car by car making sure our family was safe and with helping hands in the clean-up process. Many brought out meals and treats for our family and those helping us. Our community showed our family kindness when they did not have to. They supported us in one of the most stressful, scary, and emotional times in our lives. 

According to an article on Scientific American’s website, “one reason why stress may lead to a cooperative behavior is our profound need for social connection.” (Seppala) We are social creatures who need to connect, even in the ups and downs of life. This event bonded our community because of the stressful environment it produced. We, as a community, bonded over the food shared, pieces picked up, and memories created through the reconstruction of our farm. 

The generosity of kindness shown to my family in our time of stress and chaos changed my family’s life. The assistance and support came unexpectedly when the storm hit. We did not expect our community to put their lives on hold to help us put ours back together. They showed us hope and a glimpse at our new future when so much was lost and destroyed. They shared their time and talents by bringing food and helping hands. These actions inspired my family and me to be there for others when life blows through at 100 miles per hour. Our community impacted our lives when our farm became a war zone of damage, but most importantly it impacted us to pay their kindness forward.



“Monday Storm Leaves Damage in Wake.” Mitchell Republic, Mitchell Republic, 1 June 2011,

Seppala, Emma. “How the Stress of Disaster Brings People Together.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 6 Nov. 2012,


about Lauren Stiefvater

Lauren is a junior at Mount Marty University double majoring in Math Education and Special Education. She is originally from Salem, South Dakota where she grew up on a farm. Lauren serves the MMU community through her participation as a Mission Scholar, Admission Ambassador, Tutor, Student Government Association President, and playing trumpet in band. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, baking, watching/playing sports, and being outdoors.