DAWSON SPRINGS, Kentucky — They were inside their home when a tornado tore it apart during the night of Dec. 10, but Sterling and Karen Wallace of Dawson Springs keep repeating that “God took care of us.”
Sterling Wallace remembers looking at the sky that evening “and it’s just dark.”
He and his wife decided to go downstairs to their basement, which was being rented out by their daughter and her family.
“We never felt the house shake,” Karen Wallace told The Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper of the Owensboro Diocese. “God’s taken care of us. We heard it, felt the pressure, but the house never shook.”
Safe in the basement, they had no idea of the destruction happening upstairs and across western Kentucky, which later would be considered the worst tornado outbreak in state history.
Karen Wallace said their ears “popped” as they experienced the pressure change — typical of tornado weather — and they heard tinkling glass as the windows burst. At the time, though, they thought the tinkling was the sound of hail.
Thirty seconds later, it was all over.
When the family ventured upstairs, they saw the Christmas tree was knocked over, the windows were broken, and there was “lots of wind damage,” said Sterling Wallace. “Just glass everywhere.”
Stunned and still unaware of the extent of the damage, Karen Wallace said she looked at a smashed window and initially thought it was due to a tree that had fallen against the house.
“I kept saying, ‘It’s all right, it’s all right,’ because we had the ceiling,” said Karen Wallace, “but we didn’t know the roof was gone.”
Sterling Wallace said the ceiling began caving in during the rest of the night: “It was falling at different times.”
“To come in here and see the rains pouring in … it just tore you up,” he said. Still, their family was unscathed: “God took care of us because this could have been all taken away.”
The next morning revealed the wider spread of destruction. The Wallaces’ porch had been torn off, their barn was gone, and all of their vehicles were totaled from being lifted up and tossed by the powerful winds.
What used to be a thick, wooded area of 35 acres around their home had been flattened.
“This driveway was full of trees,” said Sterling Wallace. If they had had a working car, they could not have even gotten out.
But in that moment, he experienced what would be the first of many acts of kindness from friends and strangers alike.
“A man came up who might have been Amish, and said, ‘Where do you want us to start?'” said Sterling Wallace.
The man brought along an entire team and eventually managed to clear the driveway.
After hearing what had happened to his parents’ house, the Wallaces’ son Kenny Wallace, who today lives in Virginia, called up several of his fellow church members at First Baptist Church in Nickelsville, Virginia.
The church gathered building materials to share, and Kenny Wallace and several church members drove six and a half hours to Dawson Springs the following day.
“We worked for four or five days,” said Kenny Wallace. When he returned home, he left his truck with his parents so that they would at least have one functional vehicle.
Kenny Wallace, who is an electrician by trade, has periodically returned to Kentucky to continue helping his parents. Most recently he took off work for a week to rewire the house.
Karen Wallace calls her son “our official project manager. It’s a family affair.”
Sterling Wallace said his life perspective has changed after receiving so much support from others: “In the beginning (I thought), ‘I can do all this myself.'”
“But this state came together, the churches, everybody,” said Sterling Wallace, who with his wife belongs to Resurrection Parish in Dawson Springs — which has supported them even while dealing with the destruction of its own church building. “We’ve been blessed; people have hope and the church has been wonderful.”
This doesn’t mean it has been easy.
“My first reaction was to want to just run away,” said Karen Wallace. “(Before the storms) we’d replaced our windows, our bathroom and so much.”
They are both retired and it was not their plan to essentially gut and rebuild their home of 34 years: “We’re 66 years old, we’re rebuilding a house that we didn’t want to build,” she said.
Karen Wallace said they have “good insurance and they’ve been good to us,” but even then, only the top portion of the house was covered and the lower level is on them to pay for repairs.
Her husband said it is looking “a lot better” now that significant work is being done. But they have observed how “money comes out faster than it comes back in.”
“We were really, really blessed because insurance paid for us to go live somewhere else” during the repairs, said Sterling Wallace. “Lots of people don’t have that.”
Karen Wallace said, “You’ve just got to trust in God, know he’s in control. Anything we’re in need of, it works out.”
One happy development is that they are now working on getting their daughter and her family established in their own modular home on the family property, so they can remain close by as the grandchildren grow up.
“God just worked it out better than we could,” said Karen Wallace.
She said the goal is to be back in their home by May 1, or “hopefully by Mother’s Day,” which this year is May 8.
“I had no idea what was going to happen, but God’s going to take care of us,” said Sterling Wallace. “You can’t just say you quit. You just keep going, whatever it takes.”
Karen Wallace agreed, and repeated once more: “He’s taken care of us all the way through.”
– – –
Editor’s Note: Monetary donations may be given digitally via https://owensborodiocese.org/give. Checks may be mailed, with “Tornado Disaster Relief” written in the memo, to Catholic Charities, 600 Locust St., Owensboro, KY, 42301. To learn more about ways to help, call the McRaith Catholic Center at (270) 683-1545.
– – –
Barnstead is editor of The Western Kentucky Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Owensboro.