By Wayne Wolden
This past Sunday, June 17, marked the two year anniversary of the EF4 tornado that ravaged the city of Wadena—damaging over 400 homes, 20 businesses, the community center, ice arena, and our high school. Over many months, hundreds of Minnesotans helped us clear the debris, attend to our loved ones, and cope from this natural disaster. They donated their time, talent, and resources toward our recovery. For that, we remain eternally grateful.
The volunteers that helped us in Wadena didn’t care about political party affiliations or special interests—they just cared about getting the job done. Catholics stood by Lutherans, Republicans stood by Democrats, and Tea Party members stood by government workers, and no one cared about pretenses. Everyone was just there doing the right thing to lend a helping hand.
When the state and national media attention subsided, the people of Wadena didn’t waste a lot of time feeling sorry for ourselves. We continued working on rebuilding our homes, repairing our public buildings and restoring normalcy the best we could to our little town of 4,100 in central Minnesota.
We replanted thousands of trees, repaired several miles of roads and sidewalks, and planned for rebuilding the Wadena County Fairgrounds, local ice arena, city parks, and infrastructure. Our city was honored to receive the Initiative Foundation’s Community Achievement Award in 2011 for strong teamwork and leadership in the face of disaster, but truly, our recovery has been a team effort amongst the people of Wadena and our federal, state and local government partners.
With the help of FEMA, we were able to construct our new high school, which will open again to students in the fall. We also utilized $750,000 from the state in 2010 to design and plan the Wadena Regional Wellness Center to replace our destroyed community center. Today, we’re working to secure the additional resources needed to complete this project through a new state bonding grant program created by the Legislature this session.
Despite these achievements, the road to recovery for Wadena remains long. Many businesses and families that left the community after the tornado have yet to return. Our kids are missing opportunities to take swimming lessons because the local pool was destroyed. And many folks have to travel outside the city for certain amenities. Much work remains unfinished, but the attitude that struck Wadena the day after the disaster remains strong. Our community is interested in solutions and solving problems, so we will keep working hard to fully recover.
The Wadena tornado showed us that when faced with a tough situation, a great Minnesota still exists. Folks from all walks of life pulled together and did what needed to be done to build a better tomorrow. This is a model our state should follow even when disaster doesn’t strike. We ought to work together every day as if a tornado hit us yesterday.