Clem Schultz was sure the tornado weather forecasters were warning about was going to miss him, but he knew based on experience his Fairdale home would lose electricity.
So he went to an upstairs bedroom to get camping lanterns he and his wife, Geri, would surely be using early on the evening of April 9 last year.
He looked out a window and spotted a tornado to the west. He speculated it would stay south of his community, population around 150, about 19 miles northwest of DeKalb. He decided to record its passage on his cellphone camera.
But that black monster had other intentions, hopping the railroad tracks a block away.
There was no time for the 85-year-old to hurry back downstairs to the kitchen where Geri was. There was no point in getting in the cellar, which was basically a hole barely big enough to hold their furnace.
In an instant the tornado passed right through — literally — his house. Schultz rode the debris from the collapsing chimney down, losing his grip on the phone, getting entangled in a bedsheet, and becoming buried.
Moments later a neighbor was digging him out of the rubble. Schultz was out and standing within four minutes. The neighbor sat him down on one of the house’s beams, but told him, “Don’t look down.”
“Why?” Schultz asked.
“Because your wife is right under you. She’s dead.”
‘Sow’s Ear’ home
The Schultzes, who previously lived in Hampshire, bought the Fairdale house in 2000 to be closer to one of Geri’s daughters. They spent a year rehabilitating it, nicknaming it “The Sow’s Ear.”
“We were very proud of that house,” Schultz says.
And Geri, 67, became fast friends with a next-door neighbor, Jacqueline Klosa, 69. The first week of every month, the two would take off on a girls-only day of shopping for groceries and more. Geri Schultz would drive Klosa on errands, including doctor appointments.
Klosa, too, died in the tornado.
At Geri’s memorial celebration in June — when Clem and Geri would have been married 25 years — a friend asked Schultz if he thought Geri was in heaven. Yes, Schultz said.
” … Because those two, the devil could not put up with them at the same time,” he continued.
Clem Schultz survived the April 9, 2015, tornado that struck Fairdale, but his wife did not. Missy, the couple’s white shepherd, went missing for two days.
Clem Schultz survived the April 9, 2015, tornado that struck Fairdale, but his wife did not. Missy, the couple’s white shepherd, went missing for two days. – Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
Schultz will return to Fairdale for a memorial dedication April 9, but not to live. He found a place he loves late last summer, a two-house farm property northeast of Genoa. He intends to spend the rest of his days there.
He is comforted by his dog Missy, a white shepherd who went missing for two days after the tornado, refusing to let anyone get near her. She’s still skittish after the experience, Schultz says, but the “critter-gitter” is happy to run after possums and raccoons at her new home.
Missy sleeps on the sofa, on an afghan Geri crocheted for her. It was one of the possessions Clem was able to salvage.
“I’ll be watching TV, and something comes on that needs a comment, and she (Geri) is not there,” Clem says. “But Missy’s always there.”
He fingers the cream-colored afghan, choking up.
“This is the last thing she crocheted. It was for Missy.”
A portrait of him and Geri was found in Harvard more than 30 miles northeast and returned. His scrapbook about his service in the Navy (1948 to 1952) survived because it had been stored in a plastic tub and the tub stayed intact. There are other afghans, and old typewriters he repairs. One of his daughters lives in the bigger house on the property. He and Missy like to ride around the property on a golf cart, and Clem loves to watch the sunsets.
His sore back also serves as a reminder of the tornado. Schultz suffered a compressed broken vertebra. His back was contorted like a question mark, he said, until he underwent surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hospital, courtesy of his VA health coverage. He marvels at it, saying doctors essentially mud-jacked the vertebra, injecting bone cement.
About that video
One thing that has helped his spirits is his video of the tornado bearing down.
“I did not know if I wanted to see that video,” Schultz says. His daughter showed it to his doctor, and a few days later, Schultz got up the nerve.
He then shared it with a meteorology student who had been chasing the storm. That student included it in his doctorate studies about the internal structure of tornadoes. The rare look from inside has been shared worldwide, and it is due to be shown soon at an international atmospheric science convention in California.
“I’m proud of it,” Schultz says. “My video is saving lives.”