Hope Tomkins lost almost everything in a tornado that destroyed her Iowa home in 2008.
“When we got to our house, there were three walls left standing,” said Tomkins, who was about 30 miles away in Iowa Falls when the tornado tore through her community in Parkersburg. “It was indescribable.”
The deadly tornado — which packed 205 mph winds — left dozens injured and killed nine people, including five of Tomkins’s neighbors.
She lost most of her possessions. One that particularly stung was a photo of Tomkins’s grandparents on their wedding day in 1942, which Tomkins had proudly displayed in her living room.
“It was one of my most prized possessions,” she said. “I lived with my grandma and grandpa for a long time growing up. I have a lot of great memories.”
But nearly 16 years after the photo vanished with the wind, she got it back in what felt like an enormous stroke of luck.
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Tomkins was scrolling through Facebook on Jan. 22, when she stumbled upon a post from the City of Parkersburg.
“Does anyone recognize this couple? One of the many unclaimed tornado items from over the years,” the post — which included a timeworn photo of a young couple — said. “Cleaning out the closet at city hall and we found this! Let’s see if we can locate the family of the couple in this photo!”
Tomkins paused in disbelief.
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I know them!’” she said.
Within fifteen minutes of the photo being posted, Tomkins commented: “That is my Grandma and Grandpa.”
She was floored by the finding, which was first reported by Iowa’s News Now.
“I was in so much shock when the picture popped up,” she said, adding that she immediately called the Parkersburg City Hall to let them know the photo was hers. She also phoned her mother, Marcia Mull, whose parents are pictured. Mull was equally stunned.
“I could not believe it,” said Mull, 76, who lived in Quarry, Iowa, when the tornado hit. She moved with her husband to an assisted-living facility in Parkersburg about a year ago, across the street from City Hall. She went right away to claim the photo.
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“It’s in very good condition, considering all the stuff it went through,” Mull said. “I have never found another wedding picture of them before.”
Chris Luhring, Parkersburg City administrator, is the one who posted about the long-lost photo. He found it in a box of old items from the tornado that had been unclaimed.
“I just could not get rid of it,” said Luhring, whose aunt died in the tornado.
“Not only do you lose people, but you lose priceless artifacts,” he said. “I felt like I possessed a treasure.”
After the tornado, the city set up a lost and found center, he said, and people brought in items they found strewn around in the wreckage.
“We had thousands and thousands of things that had been recovered, and people turned things in from hundreds of miles away,” Luhring said.
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That’s how the wedding photo landed in the city’s possession. Although Tomkins visited the lost and found on several occasions, she said, she never spotted the image of her grandparents, Maxine and Raymond Randall — both of whom grew up in Quarry.
“They met, fell in love and got married,” said Mull, who is the eldest of her three siblings.
Her parents had a no-frills wedding, she said, adding that her mother wore a black dress because it was the only one she had. Their ceremony was at a local church, and there were just two people in attendance.
Mull’s father was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, shortly after the wedding, and was stationed in Normandy. He came back to Iowa in 1945 and worked at an appliance company for 33 years.
“We had a happy childhood,” Mull said, noting that her parents had a loving marriage. Her father died in 1984, and her mother died in 2007. They were adored by their 11 grandchildren, including Tomkins.
She, nor her mother, expected to ever see the photo again.
“We were so thankful that we did get it back,” said Mull, adding that they’re planning to get it restored. They will also have several copies made.
Luhring was glad to be able to get the photo back where it belongs.
“I’ve got a million stories from the tornado that are not good,” he said. “It’s nice to have this one.”
Mull and her daughter couldn’t agree more.
“Don’t give up hope of finding treasures,” Mull said. “It might be 15 or 20 years, but somewhere down the line, it could happen to you, too.”
Source link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2024/02/13/iowa-tornado-wedding-photo-tomkins/