Ten years after the storm: C-SC grad will never forget day of tornado

Tiffany Stanek Brewer stands next to her fatherís truck on May 10, 2003, after gathering what was left of her belongings outside the Comfort Inn in Canton, Mo. Brewer had graduated from Culver-Stockton College that day. (H-W File Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: May. 11, 2013 8:12 pm Updated: Jun. 2, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CANTON, Mo. -- May 10, 2003, was a day of celebration at Culver-Stockton College. It was graduation day.

Tiffany Brewer and her future husband, Jacob, both received their diplomas that day in the Joe Charles Fieldhouse along with the other graduates.

Hours later, the fieldhouse was nothing buy a pile of debris.

Brewer remembers the day well.

The Hannibal Middle School teacher and Hawk Point native was on her way to a celebration at the home of her future in-laws when the tornado struck at around 6:30 p.m.

Her parents were staying in the Comfort Inn near U.S. 61 during graduation weekend.

Brewer was driving to her future in-laws' home when her parents called her and told the couple to pull over and take cover.

"We were headed out of town to have our celebration, and my parents were going back to the hotel to grab some things," she said. "Then they were joining us. It was just a split second that we were apart from each other. It came that fast."

They pulled off the road and took cover in a ditch.

"We could see the winds coming," Brewer said. "We were maybe 10 minutes north of Canton."

She remained on the phone with her mother until the connection was lost. People in the hotel went into the cooler room for cover, and her dad was holding the door shut.

"I could hear her just telling him, ‘Hang on, Bobby. It's almost over,' " she said. "I could hear everybody in the background. I can still hear it."

Just west of the hotel in the same complex, shoppers and workers at the County Market store also headed to the cooler. A portion of the building collapsed, but everyone survived.

Several homes in the southwest corner of town also were destroyed.

Brewer's dad's truck was totaled in the storm. It was full of her belongings from her off-campus apartment. The only thing that remained were some glass candle holders, which landed in a perfect circle in the middle of the truck bed.

"I even lost my education binder that I had to work for three years to create," Brewer said.

She was in disbelief as she saw the damage in Canton and at Culver-Stockton -- an emotion that was apparent from a photograph of her on the hotel parking lot that appeared on the front page of The Herald-Whig the next day..

"I remember looking at the fieldhouse and thinking we were just in there two hours ago and now it's gone," Brewer said.

The iconic dome of Henderson Hall was blown off. Zenge Hall, home of the Delta Upsilon fraternity, also was destroyed.

"It's hard to believe it was 10 years ago," Brewer said.

Jim Ellis, who works for the Culver-Stockton IT department, was under contract to live on campus and was in Shannon Hall when the tornado hit.

"One of the student (workers) at the time received a call saying get everyone down in the basement," he said. "We were hanging out down there for a few minutes, until we got the ‘It's OK now.' "

After they left the basement, Ellis noticed some damage, but it wasn't until he saw domeless Henderson Hall that the full extent of the damage set in.

The IT Department had to work to get equipment broken down. Servers from Henderson had to be removed to avoid potential water damage.

"With that portion of the roof exposed, we didn't know what the weather was going to be like," he said. "One of the walls was damaged and the window to the server room was actually blown out. We just took the precaution of unhooking the servers and taking them to a different building -- one that hadn't been damaged -- for storage and protection."

Ten years later, glass from the window is being still found in the server room.

With the fieldhouse demolished, the college had to scramble to find athletic space. Volleyball played in the Activity and Recreation Center, while basketball played at Canton High School during the construction.

But the campus recovered fast. Just seven months after the tornado, the new fieldhouse was ready.

And by Nov. 6 of that year, the dome was replaced on Henderson Hall.



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