From IWU Magazine, Winter 2013-14 edition
Students, alumni help community decimated by tornado
By KIM HILL
Communities in Central Illinois were devastated by an EF-4 tornado on Nov. 17. Days
later, IWU student athletes mobilized to assist cleanup efforts.
(Photo by Kristy Duncan)
Before Nov. 17, 2013, when Al Black ’79 told AT&T colleagues across the country that
he lives in Washington, Ill., they invariably asked, “Where is that?” Now, people
respond to a reference to Washington with a knowing nod and “Oh, yes, we know where
Washington became the epicenter of national attention that day after an EF-4 tornado
struck the central Illinois community of about 15,000 people. The storm damaged or
leveled buildings in nearby Pekin, East Peoria and other communities in the area.
Washington, however, received the brunt of the storm’s fury, with winds peaking at
190 mph when they hit the community. Approximately 1,100 homes were destroyed, including
those of at least 13 alumni.
That Sunday morning Black was playing basketball with several other men in an elementary
school gymnasium when the town’s tornado sirens blared. “A few of the guys went out
to look at the sky, but like idiots, we kept playing,” says Black. “Then the lights
went off and everybody ran for cover.”
Thankfully, no Illinois Wesleyan lives were lost that day. Outside of Chicago and
McLean County, the greater Peoria area is home to more IWU alumni than anywhere else
The winds had hardly died down before IWU alumni and staff began to check on each
other and to organize help wherever assistance could be offered. “Early Monday morning
I received calls from [IWU President] Dick Wilson, from Adriane [Powell, Assistant
Director of Alumni Relations], and from Stew Salowitz [Sports Information Director],”
says Black, who serves as president of the Peoria Alumni Region. “They were all calling
to see if we needed help.” The property of Al and his wife, Beth (Uphoff) ’81, suffered
no damage, but the home of their son Randy and his family was heavily damaged and
could not be salvaged.
By Tuesday, IWU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee had mobilized, led by Mike Wagner,
associate athletic director and director of the Shirk Athletic Complex, and Assistant
Volleyball Coach Kristy Duncan, whose sister lives in Washington. More than 100 student-athletes
and several coaches assisted with cleanup efforts in the community. At home basketball
games and the football game during the weekend of Nov. 22-23, Titan supporters donated
about $1,000 for the Washington School District and more than 3,000 items of clothing
and other items.
Others with IWU connections reported similar acts of generosity. For several years
Mike Melick ’02 has run an annual English-style cross-country race to benefit the
El Paso-Gridley Cross Country team. The team and their parents voted that proceeds
this year would go to help their neighbors in Washington.
Halfway across the country, IWU alumni led by Scott Huch ’86, president of the University’s
Washington, D.C. Regional Club — along with a coalition of alumni from Illinois State,
Bradley and other central Illinois colleges and universities — raised more than $9,000
for the American Red Cross through a Happy Hour event.
Al Black reports that Washington has received overwhelming care and support not just
from friends such as IWU but also from complete strangers around the world. As of
late December, Black reported that Washington was still in “recovery mode” with people
from throughout central Illinois volunteering to remove the tons of debris that remain.
“This help allows the locals to focus on the tasks at hand to get back to a new level
of normal, whether that is moving to a temporary home or trying to inventory all the
belongings that were lost.”
One week after the tornado hit, student-athletes were still helping homeowners recover
whatever they could. “Several of them were looking for homeowners’ wedding rings,”
says Wagner. “My daughter’s group found a homeowner’s sport watch, which thrilled
the owner. It’s a small thing, but it was the owner’s favorite, and it meant a lot
to her to find it. Those were the things the athletes talked a lot about on the ride
Beth Black grew up in Washington, and she and Al moved to the community from Chicago’s
northwest suburbs in 2000 because they believed it was a great place to raise a family.
That’s still true, says Al, who estimates it may be three to four years before Washington
is rebuilt. “This is a strong community, and we will build it so it’s better,” Black
vows. “The emotions are still very raw right now, but the caring concern and support
we have received from IWU and from around the world has been overwhelming and is greatly