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Oklahoma tornado disaster hits close to home for area resident

By Staff | May 28, 2013

Most of us were shocked by the images on the news last Monday of the total destruction caused by a tornado hitting a town in Oklahoma.

The now-classified EF-5 tornado tore a two-mile wide, 20-mile long path of utter destruction in the city of Moore, Okla., on Monday afternoon. Worse, there were many deaths reported, including a lot of kids who were in two elementary schools that had been in the path of the deadly tornado.

But, while most of us were stunned by the images of the damage, one area resident watched the news in sheer horror.

Sonja Willmert, and her husband Harley, live just across the Iowa border, south of Elmore. But they spend a lot of time in Blue Earth where Sonja has her Mary Kay Cosmetics business in the Thrivent Financial office on Main Street.

She and Harley are members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Blue Earth and Sonja is a member of the Blue Earth Kiwanis Club and has also been a board member at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center.

But, before she married Harley and settled in this area, Sonja spent 34 years living in Oklahoma. Moore, Oklahoma, to be specific.

That is where her three children were raised. All three are graduates of Moore High School.

And, while her daughter now lives in Virginia, her two sons, Kevin and Kris and their wives and children still live in Moore.

Sonja first heard the news when she was checking things out on her computer on the Internet, about 3 p.m. on Monday.

“I saw there was a tornado in Oklahoma,” she says. “Then I saw the name Moore and I was just stunned. I was shaking.”

She turned on CNN news and was glued to the TV in a state of shock, almost unable to comprehend what she was seeing.

And, of course, she was on the phone trying to call her sons, but she couldn’t get through to them right away. The lines were all tied up.

That was when the panic really set in.

Eventually, she did get through on the phone and found out they were all OK. Her sons and their families were safe and their homes were not damaged. Her two sons were busy out helping others who were not so lucky.

The tornado was within three-quarters of a mile of her son Kevin’s home. Her grandchildren were not in the schools that were destroyed, but their schools did have some damage.

Sonja had her Mary Kay business in Moore and she also managed a radiology clinic there. Plus, she was very active in her church. So, she knows a lot of people in Moore.

Many of them she has stayed in contact with over the years, traveling to Mary Kay conventions with some of them.

“I have called several of my friends and I think they are all safe,” she says. “Only one of my Mary Kay people are unaccounted for.”

After a rough night of little sleep, Sonja was finally able to take a deep breath and relax just enough to put in a ‘Happy Buck’ at the Kiwanis meeting on Tuesday noon. She was happy that her family was all OK. But, still sad that so much devastation had occurred in a city she knows so well.

She was planning to go home after the meeting and still watch some more of the coverage on TV, thinking she might see someone she knows being interviewed.

In 1999 she did just that.

Sonja, who had been born and raised in Bricelyn, had just moved back to the Minnesota/Iowa area when Moore was hit by a tornado in May 1999.

“I watched the news then, too,” she says. “A friend of mine, who ran a daycare, was interviewed on the news.”

She says the community rebuilt itself after that tornado 14 years ago, and she is sure they will do it again.

“One thing about Oklahomans, they are very happy and willing to help each other,” she says. “Even strangers help out, whether they know someone or not.”

Sonja goes back to Moore several times a year, to visit her family there, of course. Next time she goes, in June, she might try to take some donated items to help out the victims of this storm.

They are going to need a lot of help as they try and get their town, and their lives, put back together. It will probably take years to accomplish, not just months.

“Right now, they mainly need our prayers,” she says. “I know I am saying a lot of thank you prayers.”