HENRYVILLE, Ind. – On the evening of March 2, Adam Kleinert stood in his yard videotaping an ominous storm brewing in the distance, but he listened when friends called with an urgent plea to get into his basement. There, the 35-year-old sat with his wife and kids eager for the weather to calm down so they all could get ready for his 7-year-old’s basketball party.
“You just don’t think anything bad is going to happen. It just didn’t seem like it was possible,” recalled Kleinert.
Then he walked outside.
The van was in the creek – 200 yards away from where it had been parked. The woods around their home were ripped away, leaving splintered stumps in place of once-tall, sturdy trees. Parts of the roof and most of the siding had blown off the house, which was now peppered in glass from multiple windows busted by what would eventually be confirmed as a violent F4 tornado. Kleinert would soon learn the damage done to his property was minimal compared to what many others had lost in the Southern Indiana town.
The local schools were nearly destroyed. Businesses and residences had all but vanished. Stephanie Decker lost her legs after using her body to shield her children from the tornado as it ravished their home. Lenora Hunter lost her husband Wayne, a retired ER nurse, moments after they rushed into a windowless hallway, clutching one another tightly.
“The next day we were cleaning up … and a few friends and I went out and just did anything we could around town,” Kleinert remembered. “We were just trying to find people we could help.”
Five days later, the graphic designer realized he had to go back to work to support his family. “I’ve got five other people at home who depend on me. So when I’m working, I’m always thinking, and the idea of a (benefit) calendar came to my head.”
Kleinert wanted to use his design talents to create a 2013 calendar filled with images of people who had survived the storm. He’d then sell them for $10 and donate all proceeds to the Henryville In My Heart Fund, an account set up at New Washington State Bank that’s managed by a group of trustees who determine how the money is spent to help with rebuilding of the town.Seeking a photographer, Kleinert turned to Josh Adwell, 33. “I really liked his work. I called him out of the blue and asked if he’d want to help with this calendar. I told him there’s no money in it and he said that was fine. There were so many stories, we just thought this has to live on – at least for another year.”
Step by step, Adwell and Kleinert began to compile photos and stories. “It was kind of great being part of it and just being there and being able to hear all the stories first-hand from people who were right there,” said Adwell. “It just kind of makes me more grateful for the things that I have, for my family, my health.”
Being a part of the calendar has made 18-year-old Emily Horine more appreciative, too. “When Adam approached me about it, he just politely asked if I’d be a part of it,” said Horine. The soon-to-be Indiana State freshman was photographed for the calendar with her arms around two little girls she helped care for while hiding together in a music room closet at Henryville High School as the tornado pummeled the building.
“To the world we were victims, but our town quickly turned into survivors,” Horine said. “The group of kids in the school that day, we all survived that. We weren’t victims. We’re better because of it. I think that’s what we want Henryville’s message to be through the calendar. We need to remember March 2 to remember that life’s (about) more than just things. It’s about being a part of your community and the overall love you have for those around.”
Kleinert agreed. “It’s hard to explain unless you were here. I wish I could feel that feeling every day (that we felt) three, four, five days after the tornado hit – just that feeling of the community coming together. It’s just a good feeling. We’d go to friends and their house is gone, but they’re telling you to go to someone else who really needs the help. I guess as an artist, it moves you to do something and you’ve got to get out somehow and keep the community coming together, and I guess it came out this way with the calendar.”
Leafing through the pages of the datebook is both sobering and inspiring, particularly when you stop on the month of March 2013, which will mark the one-year anniversary of the tornado. The page features a stunning black and white photo Adwell took of Lenora Hunter, who holds a framed photograph of her husband, Wayne, as she sits on a step that used to lead up to her now nonexistent home. “I hope when people look at it, they’re not feeling sorry for me, but it’d be great if they said a prayer for me every day that month and for everybody that we keep on keeping on.”
Keeping on is tough when you lose your husband of 41 years, said Hunter. “I just go day by day, and like I tell people when they’re quitting smoking, sometimes its moment by moment. You just keep going on.”
And Hunter is thankful she has the chance. “Wayne always used to believe when it was your time, it was your time – and it was his time. It wasn’t mine and there’s a reason I’m still here.”
The afternoon before the tornado, Wayne and Lenora Hunter sat together to eat. “I never thought that when we were eating pizza that afternoon that it would be the last meal we had together,” she said.
The storm brewed in the distance, and the Hunters videotaped the darkness as it began to barrel toward them. “We’ve had tornados go over our house. We’ve had tornados tear up our property. I wasn’t scared and I don’t think he was. … You never think that either one of us would be hurt. Maybe a broken leg or something. I saw it pick up a truck across the road while we were getting in our safe spot, so to speak, though I guess if there’s a F4 there is no safe spot.”
The Hunters went to a windowless hallway and wrapped their arms around each other. “We both said, ‘My ears are popping.’ We said, ‘I love you.’ And then I woke up and he didn’t,” Lenora Hunter recalled. “A part of you is gone. Absolutely gone,” she said quietly, choking back tears. “That was the love of my life. It’s an emptiness but then you’ll do something dumb and I just look up and say to him, ‘OK, did you see you that?’” She laughed. “He would have laughed with me. He had a great sense of humor. The way we got through a lot of things, you just hold. He’d just hold me. You just hold each other. If it wasn’t for us holding each other (on March 2), I would have given up, I would have quit trying to breathe, it hurt so much. … I think we were together until we landed. We were moved 63 to 65 feet. We don’t know how high, we don’t know how far. I really think we held on until we were knocked out. He just didn’t wake up and I did. If you’re going through something really traumatic you won’t remember it and now I catch myself trying to remember. You want to know. It won’t change anything, but you want to know. But I want people to know life goes on, whether you want it to or not – but it will.”
In the last three months, Hunter, who recently turned 60, has had to make several major decisions while dealing with the grief of becoming a widow. “To lose everything all at once and try to rebuild 41 years in three months time, it’s hard. It’s very hard. But with family, friends and strangers from all over the world who have been so sweet and God, we’re all going to make it. There’s a lot more good people out there than is bad. And I have seen it the last three months.”
As Hunter awaits the rebuilding of her home – this time with a basement – she’s started looking for ways to grasp even a glimmer of normalcy. The 2013 Henryville Tornado Relief Calendar has given her one. “I’m helping to make money for the others (who need it in Henryville), and I love it that there’s something I can do for other people. It goes back to what I used to do, that I can give to others again,” she said. “People want to rebuild. We want our community back. This will help.”
2013 Henryville Tornado Relief Calendar
The New Washington State Bank
C/o Henryville In My Heart
PO BOX 243
Henryville, IN 47126
Make Check to: Henryville in My Heart
*Please put “calendar” in the memo line.