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Some of the survivors of the August 6, 1969 F4 tornado.(front row l-r:) Jeanne Marko, Pam Marko, Cathy Brokke, Sheila (Dugan) Jensen, Priscilla Dugan; (back row l-r) Sue (Dugan) Moline, Lon Dugan, Diane (Dugan) Dahlen, Terry Dugan, Shane Dugan and Dan Brokke - photo by Paul Boblett
Sue Moline addresses the crowd at the Winds of Remembrance Picnic on August 6 - photo by Paul Boblett
Some of the crowd look over photos and newspaper articles about the 1969 F4 tornado that ripped through Outing, killing 12 and injuring 70. - photo by Paul Boblett

Outing comes together for 1969 tornado remembrance

Web posted August 13, 2019
By Paul Boblett, editor

The Outing community gathered Tuesday, August 6th at Luscher’s Park to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 F4 tornado that killed 15 and left over 100 injured across the area. 12 people died and 70 were injured in Outing that day.

The estimated crowd of nearly 300 people that attended the Winds of Remembrance Picnic got an opportunity to meet and hear from several of the survivors, pore over images and newspaper clippings, and view 2 memorial granite benches that were recently installed in the park. The benches are engraved with the names of those whose lives were taken in the storm.

The event was sponsored by the Outing Area Chamber of Commerce and the Crooked Lake Township Firefighters.

Storm survivor Sue Moline, who was 17 at the time, spearheaded the effort after doing some research on the internet, then placing short public service announcements requesting information in local newspapers. She received over 130 responses from those who lived through the storm, their relatives, and people who assisted with the massive clean-up effort.

11 people died near Lake Roosevelt and one, two-year-old Susan Marko, died near Reservoir Lake, about 8 miles east of Outing. Susan’s sisters, Jeanna and Pam returned to Outing for the event.

Fifty years ago, Pam and Jeanne were at their grandmother Isabelle Busby’s cabin when the storm hit. The three sisters had been out picking berries with their grandmother before returning to the cabin. The three sisters, along with their brother Dan and their mother Eleanor, were inside the cabin under a bunk bed.

When the storm had passed, Pam, Jeanne, and Dan woke up near each other on the shore with their feet in the water. Their mother ended up in the middle of the yard with broken legs, arms and ribs. Eleanor had to wait 7 hours until the roads could be cleared for help to arrive.

Susan’s body was recovered in shallow water by divers two days after the storm.

Moline and much of her extended family were vacationing at the Bethany Cabins along the east shore of Roosevelt in 1969. Just before the tornado, they had been warned that severe weather was on its way as most of the family gathered in one of the cabins.

Moline said it was like a rug was being pulled out from underneath them, “the next thing we knew we were in the water…. It was surreal”. She estimated coming to the surface about 300-400 feet from where the cabin went into the lake before floating into shore.

Moline said there were 17 people in the cabin that was swept into the lake. Four did not survive.

Sue’s aunt Priscilla Dugan, seven months pregnant at the time, was in the cabin with Moline and the rest. She said when the storm hit, the tornado lifted the cabin and when the people and furniture slid forward, she hit her head on the closet and everything went black. Then she felt water on her face.

Dugan mentioned a person across the lake told her the tornado sucked up the water into a huge wall, dragged both cabins and everything into the hole and then the water crashed down on everything. She likened that experience to “being in a huge agitator washer with lots of debris whizzing by”.

Dugan thanked the public safety responders, and staff at Crosby hospital for their efforts.

She added a special thank you to the people of Outing, for their generosity and care. “They took us into their homes,” Dugan said. “We were clothed and fed until we were ready to go home - we had nothing.”

Moline spoke at the picnic and opened by stating, “50 years ago today, the unthinkable happened. And we are here to remember it. And it should be remembered.”

She thanked the organizers and volunteers for the event, before sharing her story, as well as some of the individuals who have contacted her after learning of her information gathering efforts.

Moline has begun writing a book about her experience. She is still taking remembrances and stories from interested parties and can be emailed at: suemoline@comcast.net

The following are edited excerpts from a few of those emails:
• Pat Coughlin of Kilworry Resort near Pine River: “My brother, George and I were fishing with resort guests, (Mike and John Ramerth). We were fishing on Stewart Lake (a backwoods lake located between Backus and Outing). [The] weather was strange that day with fronts coming through from all directions. In that afternoon we observed a cloud with rotation from the west. There also was a cloud system moving fast from the south-southeast. We actually talked and decided that this could produce a tornado. The two systems met and 2 waterspouts shot up to the cloud and the funnel came down to the lake. We decided that it was too late to do anything and we continued to fish. We were 16-18 years old. This tornado hit north of my girlfriend's (now wife) on Mitchell Lake in 50 Lakes. There was no cell phones or communication back to the resort. We actually thought that our tornado story would not be believed and we were more worried that our parents would smell beer on our breath! The whole resort was waiting for our return and we came home to a heroes welcome!”

• Tim Taylor, Family property on Lake Roosevelt: “I was alone at our cabin on Aug 6, 1969. I was 21 years old and about ready to start my senior year in college. One of my enjoyments was to swim in Lake Roosevelt. That’s where I was, swimming in the lake about 100 yards off shore when the sky turned yellowish and ominous. I quickly swam to shore and sprinted up the concrete steps to our cabin.  I made the front door just when the window shutters all collapsed. I dove under a bed in the living room, but I could not resist sticking my head up and looking out the windows. The one amazing sight I most vividly recall is watching all the trees just fold down in unison. Literally, hundreds of trees just bent down to the ground, not breaking, but laying down with their tree roots, with all the soil, just lifting up from underneath the ground… All the trees were down. Hundreds of them. Three of the trees were huge white pines that were big enough to have withstood a forest fire that had gone through the area many years earlier.”

•    Lynn Rogers, Outing resident now living in Florida: “At the time of the tornado, I was 16 and working at the Lakeview store in Outing. The first thing I recall is my boss telling me that I should get in the storage basement and stay there be-cause a tornado was coming. I did that for about 10 seconds and being 16 and invincible, I went back upstairs to the front windows facing the Lake Roosevelt. There was a lady in her car at the gas pumps clutching her steering wheel with a terrified look on her face. My boss was trying to get to her but the pressure in-side the store from the tornado would not allow him to open the door. As I watched out the window, I saw a wall of dark clouds coming down the lake. The water in the lake lifted up totally exposing the sand bottom. Debris was flying everywhere and just as quickly as it had started it stopped. I was facing toward the park across the street which was south of the bridge. I could only guess how deep the Lake was there so I won't even try. It only took seconds for the water to be sucked up and unbelievably it just set it back down with not much wave action.”

The names on the memorial benches include Susan Marko, age 2; Sharon Dugan, age 5; Paul Brokke, age 13; Rebecca Dugan, age 19; Evelyn Carlson, 50; Rae Knighton, age 55; Edith Dugan, 62; Olga Long, age 69; Harry Long, age 76; Minnie Olson, age 79; Rev. Arthur Olson, age 80; and Jens Gottlieb, age 87.

The tornado was estimated to be on the ground for 38 miles and traveled from Stewart Lake (near Backus) to a location south east of Hill City. F4 tornados have wind speeds of 207-260 mph. The day of the storm, there was a total of 13 tornados over a 6 hour period of time in northern Minnesota.

According to the National Weather Service, “this tornado outbreak, referred to as the Northwoods Tornado Outbreak of 1969, included the deadliest F-4 tornado to ever occur in northern Minnesota. The damage, estimated at around $8 million dollars in 1969, is the equivalent of about $55 million dollars in 2019.”

In an August 9 email to Northland Press, Moline wrote, “The Winds of Remembrance memorial in Outing on Tuesday, August 6th, was unbelievable! I was so honored to be a part of the event. To think that a crowd that size would come out on a Tuesday to memorialize an event from 50 years ago is very moving.”

“It was a pleasure to meet so many people who have called me and emailed me,” she continued, “I have enjoyed talking to every one of them. And it was so special to meet other survivors in person who had only been names in old newspapers until Tuesday.

She closed by writing, “The committee that worked on the benches and the picnic should be very pleased and proud of what they accomplished… we "survivors" from the tornado were able to show our children and grandchildren the beautiful town and lake, and also give them a memory that they will never forget. The benches say it all and will stand forever. The 1969 Outing Tornado will be remembered in Minnesota history and we are very grateful for that.”

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