Sunday, April 11, 1999

Homeowners sort out emotions, scattered memories

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jon O'Neal and Suzanne Bochnovichtake a break Saturday. The Bochnovich home in the background crumbled in the tornado.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        Melissa Fitzgerald, who grew up in Montgomery and lives in Cleveland, saw terrifying images of her old neighborhood on television Friday.

        On the road Saturday morning with her husband, she even made a list of items she wanted to try to find in the damage of her parents' home.

        But when she came home early Saturday afternoon and saw three of the home's four bedrooms blown away by Friday morning's tornado,she broke down crying in the arms of her sister.

        “I'm feeling like my childhood died,” Mrs. Fitzgerald, a 1991 Sycamore High School graduate, said while surveying what's left of the house she grew up in at 11040 Valleystream. “I'm seeing all of my memories scattered with our neighbors' memories. It's weird.”

        Hundreds of Tristate families came home Saturday morning to find bits and pieces of their lives scattered to the winds or gone for good. The addresses were different — Montgomery, Blue Ash, and Sycamore and Deerfield townships — but the spirit was the same.

        People were thankful to have lived through the violent storm. And they wanted to get to work rebuilding or repairing their homes, pausing just long enough to look for those things that could be saved and those things that can't be replaced: family photographs, missing pets and purses.

        Melissa Fitzgerald was two-for-three. She found a drawer filled with vintage family photos, and the dress she wore to be married in in October, but she couldn't find the family heirloom headpiece.

        “I'm still in total shock,” she said.

Ashley Bochnovich, 12, gathers her skates from the rubble that was once her home on Marlette Drive in Sycamore Township.
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        For years, residents of Fallsington Grant in Blue Ash have glared with contempt at the concrete noise barrier between their upscale neighborhood and Interstate 71.

        Saturday, they gazed at it lovingly.

        “We all complain about the ugliness of that wall, but that wall saved us,” said Jean Payne, 69, of 10883 Fallsington Court. “It's beautiful. I love that wall.”

        The tornado tore across Interstate 71 and smacked against the noise wall, before lumbering over it on its way to Montgomery.

        Fallsington Grant residents think the wall lessened the tornado's impact just enough to keep it from flattening their homes.

        One home and two condos — out of 75 condos and 22 single-family homes here — were condemned. Dozens of others had broken windows, battered roofs and other damage, but no structural problems.

        Motorist Charles S. Smith of Loveland died on the other side of the wall when winds tossed his car in the air like a coin.

Sue Bochnovich, center, is hugged by friends Debbie Present, left, and Kathy Marco Saturday outside her tornado-destroyed home.
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        Right across the street from the Montgomery house where Melissa Fitzgerald grew up, Gene and Patricia Makowski picked through what was left of the home they built 23 years ago. They plan to rebuild at 11041 Valleystream.

        The entire second floor of the all-brick house was gone. Chests of drawers and mattresses sat exposed to the 50-degree air.

        “I got what I wanted right here,” said Mrs. Makowski, 58, wrapping her left arm around her daughter, Susan Makowski. Susan, 37, disabled in an auto accident 20 years ago, was swept out a second-floor room that no longer exists.

        “I landed on my wall in the yard,” she said. She was uninjured.

        In a Montgomery neighborhood populated by homeowners at or nearing retirement age, the tornado brought home adult children from throughout the Midwest. It was a block party, with part of the block missing.

        The Makowskis' other daughter, Karen Hull, was in from Columbus, Ind. She's pregnant, but she picked through the damaged house for what could be saved. A son, Kevin Makowski, also was home from Milwaukee.

        Shortly before 11 a.m., Mrs. Makowski walked up the driveway, where her husband's Nissan Maxima sat in ruins, and said to her husband, “Hold out your hand and close your eyes. I have a surprise for you. I found it in the back yard.”

        Then she placed a gold antique pocket watch in his hand. It was her 25th anniversary gift to him.

        “I have good news,” he said. “I found something for you in our room.”

        He wouldn't say what it was, but it's the gift he bought her for their 40th anniversary, which is May 16.

        But for everything found, there were several things lost.

        Found: the cover of Susan's 1979 Sycamore High yearbook. Lost: the inside pages.

        Also found: a four-pack of toilet paper in the garage, next to Mrs. Makowski's totaled red Pathfinder.

        Trouble was, the TP was wet and unusable.

        “It's a family joke,” she said. “I panic if there's less than 24 rolls in the house.”

        Laughter was followed by tears and near-tears. Another adult Makowski son, Steve, died three years ago from liver disease. The family retrieved a clock he made before his death, as well as a dresser drawer in which Mrs. Makowski kept the Stetson cologne Steve wore.

        “I just keep walking up to my kids and hugging them,” she said.

        Kent Meiser's two-story home at 10890 Fallsington Court in Blue Ash has been condemned. A bulldozer and team of construction workers helped stabilize the house Saturday so he could pick through his family's belongings.

        But before moving the mammoth machine from his blacktop driveway, workers carefully placed protective mats beneath its treads.

        “They're worried about ruining the driveway? Haven't they seen the house?” said Mr. Meiser, glancing toward the missing roof.

        His homeowner's insurance would cover the damage. He, wife, Vicki, and daughter Paige, were uninjured. The family would rebuild.

        But as the bulldozer's tail end nearly toppled his mailbox, his optimism wavered and he winced.

        “Not the mailbox, too!” he said.

        Then he sighed with relief. The bulldozer cleared it.

Debris surrounds a Sycamore Township home on Marlette Drive that was blown apart by Friday's tornado.
(Craig ruttle photo)
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        Two weeks ago, the divorce of Mike and Susan Bochnovich of Sycamore Township became final, but he was back there Saturday to help his ex-wife, son and two daughters clean up from Friday's tornado.

        The family carefully stepped over glass and boards to carry dining room chairs, books and tables to a waiting van outside of 11158 Marlette Drive.

        Mr. Bochnovich and 15-year-old Michael also found most of their combined baseball card collection. But a key card was missing — Mark McGwire's rookie card, which has gone up in value since he belted 70 home runs last year.

        “We're looking for that in the back yard,” Mr. Bochnovich said.

        Blue Ash officials last year honored the city's most magnificently manicured neighborhood with a beautification award. But on Saturday, Fallsington Grant was anything but beautiful as contractors tried — seemingly fruitlessly — to restore the upscale neighborhood to its award-winning splendor.

        Damaged houses took on a speckled hue from the mulch that winds sucked up from flower beds. Sawdust swirled like snow as landscapers fed downed trees into chippers.

        On the hardest-hit properties, crews' efforts seemed to make little difference. In gardens, some flowers stood untouched while others looked as if they'd been dipped in a blender.

        The homeowners' association just two months ago agreed to start drafting an emergency plan, association president Lee Czerwonka said.

        “Guess this will be our blueprint,” Mr. Czerwonka said of Friday's tornado emergency.

Bengals special-teams coach Al Roberts, right, and player Greg Truitt recover clothes from the bedroom of Roberts' house Saturday on Lakewater Drive in Montgomery.
(Stephen M. Herppich photo)
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        Cincinnati Bengals special teams coach Al Roberts, 55, and his wife, Arvella, had a system in place Saturday to sort through the belongings of their rented house at 7591 Lakewater Drive in Montgomery.

        What could be saved went into one of dozens of green plastic garbage bags. One stack went to storage. The other would be headed for the laundry.

        “We need some boxes,” said Mrs. Roberts, 41. “Our dishes survived.”

        Doors were ripped from cabinets, but the cabinets held. Mrs. Roberts' china, which belonged to her mother, was spared.

        Helping load and haul the Roberts' belongings were Bengals' special teams player Greg Truitt and former player and current chaplain Ken Moyer.

        “Al would be there for me,” said Mr. Truitt, whose Blue Ash home was not damaged.

        Beth Middleton, who lives next door to the Bochnoviches on Marlette Drive in Sycamore Township, strained to control her emotions as she, her husband, David, and their two teen-age sons carried what remained of their belongings from the ruin of their white-brick house.

        Mrs. Middleton was relieved that a baby grand piano that her grandfather had given to her grandmother as a wedding gift had not been damaged.

        “I want to find my mother's wedding ring,” she said.

        Mrs. Middleton was resigned to losing some of her possessions.

        “Some things you just have to let go,” she said. “We have our lives and each other. That's the most important thing.”

        On Thursday, Tink Wallace of Montgomery was in Columbus for the birth of a granddaughter, Betsy, to her daughter-in-law Sarah Wallace, and son, Tom.

        By late Friday, Tom and his mother were back on Valleystream Drive trying to save what they could. The family home had been destroyed.

        As she held a tennis racket pulled from the debris at 11033 Valleystream, she looked at another pile and wept.

        “I wish I could find my dog,” she said. “I'd rather have the body be in there than have her out there somewhere lost.”

        Tory, 14, is a Springer spaniel.

        “Oh, look, there's my mother's quilt,” said Mrs. Wallace, pointing to a soggy blanket hanging from a metal bed frame in their back yard.

        When she tried to pull the quilt out, daughter Katie Wal lace, 32, of Grand Rapids, Mich., said, “Mom, we'll get it for you.”

        A few minutes later, as her brothers and emergency workers sorted through the little that remained of the home's second floor, Katie Wallace arranged china and crystal on the front lawn.

        “These glasses are from the 1920s,” she said.

        Before a moving van would come at 2 p.m., plastic bags of family photos, stacks of hardback Tom Clancy books and antique mirrors were arranged neatly near the dishes.

        “All you can do,” Katie Wallace said, “is get out what you can.”



Pinpointing the damage in the Tristate
- Homeowners sort out emotions, scattered memories
Where to donate, where to get help
Orphaned dog has broken pelvis, heart
Devoted pair died together
'When God calls, we must go'
Sirens not designed to penetrate buildings
Did you hear the sirens?
New home, owners spared
Utility crews, municipal workers out in force
Volunteers offer goods, hands, time
Mother Nature's worst brings out the best in human nature
Church members shed tears, give thanks
Hoosiers pitch in to help neighbors
Insurance adjusters bring checks, reassuring words
Warren County took blow, too
One year later, Alabama tornado victims still rebuilding
Coping with the storm
Coping with the storm: Returning to your home