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Tracy residents honor victims with monument

Shortly after an F5 tornado ravaged the city of Tracy 45 years ago, the city constructed a memorial site along the highway that ran through town. A huge twisted elm tree that once stood next to the demolished elementary school was cut down and placed at the memorial site, along with a brick-pillared monument.

Over time, the tree succumbed to the elements and was replaced by a metal sculpture that replicated the fallen tree. The brick monument also began to fall into disarray; partly because of erosion and partly due to vandalism. The nine nameplates cemented in the ground at the base of the pillar no longer served their purpose of honoring those killed by the tornado because they were either missing or damaged.

For years there were constant reminders from townspeople that a new monument should be built, but no one stepped forward to get the ball rolling.

A year ago, a group of volunteers were pulling weeds along U.S. Highway 14 that runs east and west through the city of Tracy. When the volunteers came upon the area near the monument site, talk again centered on the deteriorated monument and how the town needed a replacement.

This time, someone decided to step forward and make sure the project would come to fruition. Peggi Peterson, whose husband Tony is the town’s mayor, looked at the area where the nameplates of the deceased were. Immediately she thought of her two sons. Nathan was only 3 months old when he died of SIDS in 1985, and Justin was 22 years old when he died from a heart defect in 2002.

“I didn’t want a family member to see the old monument like that,” she said. “I know exactly how they would feel. I think that’s why the monument was so important to me. It broke my heart that there was no respect for the people who died.”

Peggi soon contacted Sue Ann Moyars, a Tracy resident who works for a monument company, to get an idea of the cost for a bigger and better monument. Moyars, with the assistance of the New Ulm Monument Company, came up with a design for a three-sided obelisk monument that would be made out of black granite quarried in India.

Peggi then formed a committee consisting of Moyars, Marianne Ankrum, Rhonda Frederichs, Charlie Snyder, Scott Thoma and Roger and Cathy Gorius. Peterson was elected president of the group, and she began to strategize for ways to come up with the approximately $15,000 needed for the new monument.

Some fundraisers made money and some didn’t. But the committee forged ahead, getting most of the money through individual and business donations.

“We never gave up,” said Peterson. “I’m glad I made that call to Sue Ann and things got done after that. I didn’t want people to see the way the monument was anymore. It wasn’t anything to be proud of.”

The polished granite stone that was on top of the old brick monument now sits outside the Wheels Across the Prairie museum on the west edge of Tracy. Nine shrubs were planted behind the marker in honor of those lives taken by the tornado.

And the new monument? “It’s beautiful,” Peggi said. “I think people can look at this one now and be proud.”

The new monument is nearly 6 feet tall, and a clock at the apex of each side represents the elementary school clock that was found atop the rubble following the tornado. The clocks show the time the tornado hit the school, 7:04 p.m. The story of the June 13, 1968, tornado and an iconic photo taken by Eric Lantz are etched on one side of the monument. The names and ages of the nine killed in the tornado are on another. The third side features a 14-inch x 36-inch granite bench with “Tracy Tornado Memorial” engraved on it. Each side of the pillar is 18 inches wide. The memorial site is located in the tornado’s path, and the monument faces to the northeast, the direction the tornado went through town.

The monument was unveiled on Labor Day which coincided with Tracy’s town celebration called Box Car Days. Approximately 150 people turned out for the ceremony held on the monument site. The Tracy Headlight Herald donated an informational sign that was erected near the monument to explain the significance of the tree sculpture and the clock on the monument. Some of those in attendance had family members that were killed in the tornado.

“To put into words what (the new monument) meant to me is difficult,” said Larry Morgan, whose grandmother, Ellen Morgan, died in the tornado. “It would be very easy in this day of tight budgets to put this on the back burner at best. To see my grandmother’s name on the beautiful monument reminds me of the time I spent with her.”

Linda Tordsen was 20 years old when the tornado destroyed her home and caused her multiple injuries. A 2-year-old girl, Nancy Vlahos, who Linda and her former husband were in the process of adopting, was killed by the tornado.

“I was very impressed with the monument,” she said. “It was emotional for me to see Nancy’s name on there, but it was a nice honor.”

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