Parishioners work to clean up in wake of May 28 tornado

Karen Pendleton surveys the damage to her home and business, Pendleton’s Country Market, two days after an EF4 tornado ripped through Lawrence on May 28. Every window in her home was blown out and five of her seven greenhouses were damaged beyond repair. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

by Ellie Melero
Special to The Leaven

LAWRENCE — Broken trees, downed power lines, damaged houses, and crews working to clean all of it up crowded the road to Pendleton’s Country Market here two days after an EF4 tornado ripped through northeastern Kansas.

Past the wreckage leading to the Country Market, a crowded parking lot became visible, as did the many people working diligently to help Karen and John Pendleton clean up their farm. The Pendletons are one of several families in the archdiocese who were affected by the Tuesday, May 28, tornado.

The tornado, which was about one mile wide and reached speeds of 170 mph, demolished homes and caused severe damage in parts of Douglas and Leavenworth counties. Eighteen people were reported injured, but there were no deaths.

The Pendletons were unharmed in the tornado, but the same cannot be said for their Country Market.

“When it did kind of quiet down and the house quit shaking, we came upstairs, opened the door and the first thing you could see was just stuff blown throughout the entire room,” said John. 

“You could tell that the wind had just blown the windows out, blown stuff around the room and everything was wet. So, it was bad, but we still had no idea.”

Five large trees that used to provide the Pendletons’ house with shade had fallen over in their yard, blocking them from exiting through their front door. 

When they exited via the garage — through the hole left by a missing wall — they saw what the twister had done to their farm.

Five of their seven greenhouses were damaged beyond repair, a telephone pole had been knocked over and their porta potty was nowhere to be found. The Pendletons were in shock, but they knew they had no time to waste.

“I don’t sit and cry,” Karen said. “You’ve got to start doing things.”

The Pendletons lived through a flood in 1993 and a microburst in 2006, so Karen said she knew people would come to their aid.

When some of their friends came to check on them, she asked a friend to coordinate food. She then made some calls to secure another porta potty, and another friend helped them secure a shipping container to store things in.

John said about 150 people came to help them clean up their farm on Wednesday, and people came back Thursday to continue the work.

Kathy Landers was among the volunteers. She said she was amazed at the Pendletons’ positive attitudes toward the situation.

“They’re just so resilient,” Landers said. “They’re just like, ‘Oh, well. Let’s do it.’”

Despite the hardship they had been dealt, the Pendletons did not forget to count their blessings. John said they had been blessed by the support they received from the community, their customers and their church.

He choked up as he talked about a local restaurant that called him asking to buy their green tomatoes, which had fallen off the vine during the storm.

“Instead of just sending us money or sending us food, they wanted to buy our product,” John said. “It just hits me that the community wants to help us so much.”

Despite how much damage had been done to their farm, both John and Karen recognized it could have been worse. 

For some of their neighbors, it was.  

John said they had so many people offer assistance that he and his wife have started directing people toward their neighbors.

One group John said he was particularly appreciative of was the Knights of Columbus.

“The local Knights have just absolutely come out in force,” John said. “That group in particular, on purpose, came out in force to help.”

John was especially thankful to the Knights because he is not Catholic. He is Lutheran, but Karen is an active member of St. John the Evangelist in Lawrence.

Jake Weeks, the Deputy Grand Knight of Council 1372 in Lawrence, organized the Knights that came to the Pendletons’ aid.

“The Pendletons are parishioners at St. John’s, and they’ve been good friends of my wife and [me] for 12 or 15 years,” Weeks said. “They’re really good people and we wanted to see if we could help lend a hand and help do whatever.”

Weeks organized about a dozen Knights to help out at the Pendletons from the councils in Lawrence and Eudora. They were at the farm Wednesday and Saturday and plan to continue helping out when they can until the job is done.

“I imagine we’ll be out here for quite a while,” Weeks said. “After we deconstruct damaged structures, I’m sure we’ll be involved with putting whatever back together that the Pendletons need.”

Fourteen miles away in Linwood, another man has also been cleaning up after the tornado.

Brian Habjan, owner of Black and Gold Farms and a parishioner at Holy Angels in Basehor, was also hit by the tornado. Habjan’s house was mostly unharmed, but his barn had significant damage and many trees on his property were knocked down.

Like the Pendletons, Habjan and his family received tremendous support from their community. 

He said about 60 or 70 people came to help them clean up Wednesday, including people from his children’s school, friends and even strangers. He said his church community has also been supportive, and Father Richard McDonald (pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Basehor) and the Knights of Columbus offered their assistance as well.

“One of the best things is just seeing the amount of support,” Habjan said. “We had so many kids and people parked in the driveway, the equipment couldn’t even come down the driveway to come help, so we had to get everybody to move.”

Habjan said he was pleased by the amount of work they got done Wednesday and said his family is blessed that there wasn’t more damage.

Both the Pendletons and the Habjans have cleaned up a lot on their farms, but they still have a lot to do before life can get back to normal. They are thankful for the support of their communities and their parishes.

“It’s truly an amazing amount of destruction that’s here and how much we’ve been able to clean up,” Habjan said. “I’ve lost track of the number of people that have come by just to see if we needed anything else.

“That’s amazing that people come out of the blue and just start helping clean up.”

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