Rejuvenated in a familiar and changed place

Flowering shrubs by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

I hadn’t been to Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio since a tornado literally blew it apart September 16, 2010. In the midst of our recent summer-like weather, I decided it was time to reconnect.

Woodlots by Bruce StambaughLike so many others, I always had found the arboretum to be a place of blissful escape and rejuvenation. Its lovely woodlots, pristine gardens and peaceful settings have long served as a place of inspiration and retreat for many.

I knew why it had taken me so long to return to this little paradise. I didn’t want to relive those ugly memories, so opposite of what Secrest was meant to be.

Just an hour after the tornado hit late that summer evening, I had maneuvered in and around the devastation of the Ohio Agriculture and Research Development Center campus, where the arboretum is located. As a volunteer severe weather spotter, the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service had sent me there to photograph the damage as best I could.

I only had about a half an hour before sunset. Rescue crews were still combing buildings for possible victims who may have stayed late for work or study. Sporadic jerky flashes from searchlights sent eerie light beams through holes of broken buildings.

Focusing on my duty, I snapped as many pictures in the dim light as I could. That purposeful concentration was the only thing that stilled my emotions.

OARDC tornado damage by Bruce Stambaugh
Tornado damage near the Barnhardt Rice House on the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center in Wooster, Ohio on the evening of Sept. 16, 2010.

Historic buildings were ripped apart. Vehicles had been smashed and tossed like toys. Giant, beloved trees were snapped, toppled and twisted. It was overwhelming to see this peaceful place resemble a war zone.

It was nearly dark by the time I had circled back to the famous and popular gardens. Trees that had stood as sentinels over the flora and fauna had been sheared off or completely twisted out of the ground.

I thought of the many good times past when we toured the gardens with family and friends, admiring the marvelous variety of plants, flowers and trees. Those memories made it all so heart wrenching.

Like thousands of others, researchers and visitors alike, I loved the place. The EF2 tornado stole that, too. I knew that restoration had begun almost immediately. But I wondered if Secrest would ever be the same.

Flowers and stump by Bruce StambaughBuoyed by the unusually warm weather, I laid aside my fears and drove in. As soon as I exited my vehicle, familiar sights and sounds were instantaneous. Young trees had been planted, some adjacent to the sawed-off stumps, testimonial tombstones to those once towering trees.

Exotic tulips by Bruce StambaughThe early onslaught of warm weather had coaxed the blossoming of many flowers and flowering trees. Crocuses, daffodils, hydrangea, forsythia, magnolia and even an exotic tulip were all blooming, some well ahead of schedule. Workers were busy trimming out last year’s dead growth while construction crews continued to repair, replace and expand the lovely gardens.

ricehousebybrucestambaugh
The Barnhardt Rice House is repaired and back in use.
It was a pleasure to walk the paved pathways to explore the remake. I wasn’t the only one to notice the fragrant flowers. Huge bumblebees and honeybees gorged on the nectar of the new blossoms. Mocking birds flushed from one bush to the next, staking out nesting preferences.

It was also nice to see some of the campus building restored, refurbished and back in use. Others, however, remained much as the tornado had left them.

Damaged silos by Bruce Stambaugh
Silos on the OARDC campus stand as they were after being hit by a tornado Sept. 16, 2010.

The restoration of Secrest Arboretum is a work in progress to be sure. In some sections, tornado twisted and toppled trees remain within eyeshot of the ongoing transformations.

The contrasts of nature’s stark fury and inspiring revival filled my soul. In the midst of this resurrection season, Secrest and I were both healing.

Restored and damaged by Bruce Stambaugh
While many areas of the arboretum have been restored, sections of large trees downed by the tornado remain.

Tornadoes hit Ohio’s Amish country again

Secrest Garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The entrance to the Secrest Garden and Arboretum after the tornado.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For the second time this summer, tornadoes caused significant damage in Ohio’s Amish country.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16 a powerful tornado touched down on the south edge of Wooster, Ohio along Prairie Lane. The tornado, which the National Weather Service rated an EF2, proceeded east destroying businesses and homes, and crossed Madison Ave. onto the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, a division of The Ohio State University.

The tornado caused extensive damage to campus buildings, including some historical homes used as offices. It also destroyed the machine shop and heavily damaged parts of Secrest Garden and Arboretum, where many people love to walk and relax among the roses, ornamental shrubs and old age trees. The tornado clipped off dozens of the huge trees 20 to 30 feet above the ground.

The Wooster Twp. Fire chief reported that only one person was slightly injured. But she refused transport to the hospital.

The tornado continued on an east northeast path destroying and damaging several other homes and farm buildings. It did considerable damage to the Riceland Golf Course on U.S. 30 south of Orrville. Altogether, the NWS reported that the tornado was on the ground for 12 miles and reached wind speeds of 130 m.p.h. It left a path of destruction 200 yards wide.

Around 6 p.m., an EF1 tornado hit near the rural town of Farmerstown, Ohio in Holmes County about 25 miles south of Wooster. Several homes and barns were destroyed or damaged there. But again, no one was injured, although some farm animals had to be put down. The tornado was on the ground for three miles and reached a maximum speed of 100 m.p.h. It ranged from 50 to 75 yards wide.

As a Skywarn severe weather spotter for north central Holmes County, the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service asked me to photograph the damage at the OARDC. This was prior to knowing of the tornado in Holmes County. No tornado warning was issued for Holmes County.

I arrived at the OARDC shortly before 7 p.m., which left me a little more than a half an hour to take pictures before dark. I shot as many pictures as I could, but due to darkness, was unable to make it entirely around the campus. As I walked back to my car, parked in the arboretum a half mile east of the damaged OARDC buildings, I cut through open fields. I found several places where debris had hit the ground, leaving large gouges in the fields and grass.

The first tornado of the summer hit Holmes County and continued into Tuscarawas County on June 5. The EF1 and EF2 tornado caused extensive damage along its 10 mile path.

A gallery of some of my shots at the OARDC is shown below. Information about the Farmerstown tornado can be found here: http://www.holmescountyjournal.com/.

brick house by Bruce Stambaugh
Trees were snapped and the old Rice House heavily damaged at the OARDC in Wooster, Ohio.
damaged OARDC building by Bruce Stambaugh
One of the many OARDC buildings destroyed by the tornado
View of damaged OARDC building by Bruce Stambaugh
Another view of the building shown above.
Debris and stripped trees at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Debris and stripped trees at the OARDC.
Large trees down by Bruce Stambaugh
The tornado toppled large trees on the OARDC campus.
The OARDC's machine shop was heavily damaged by the tornado.
The OARDC's machine shop was heavily damaged by the tornado.
Machine shop destroyed by Bruce Stambaugh
Following the tornado's path to the machine shop at the OARDC.
Damage at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Damaged farm equipment and trees at the OARDC.
More damage around the machine shop by Bruce Stambaugh
More damage around the machine shop at the OARDC.
Another destroyed building at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Another destroyed building at the OARDC.
Destroyed machine shop by Bruce Stambaugh
The destroyed machine shop at the OARDC.
Debris littered the OARDC campus by Bruce Stambaugh
Debris from the tornado littered the OARDC campus.
OARDC police station by Bruce Stambaugh
Damage was extensive at the building that housed the campus police station.
The agricultural engineer building by Bruce Stambaugh
The agricultural engineering building was destroyed.
Rose garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The OARDC rose garden was heavily damaged.