By Colleen O'Neill
The story swirled in her mind for two years before she began to write "Night of the Twisters," and now it's been made into a movie bearing the same name.
A film based upon Ivy Ruckman's fictional novel about Grand Island's devastating 1980 tornadoes will air at 6 p.m. Sunday on the cable Family Channel.
Ruckman, a Hastings native and 1953 graduate of Hastings College, writes children's books and has lived in Salt Lake City since 1957. She said the idea for "Night of the Twisters" had intrigued her for nearly two years before she began to research the project.
"Some ideas just won't go away. It kept scratching at my brain," Ruckman said from her Utah home. "Of course, it was my home. It was Nebraska, and it was very close to Hastings."
Ruckman first learned of the storm's impact while flipping on her car radio for the news nearly 16 years ago. She immediately tried to reach her close friend and cousin, Florence Rozendal, who narrowly survived the tornado with her husband, Harley, and their three children.
The Rozendals lost everything, including their Grand Island home on Bismark Road. They have since rebuilt in the same location.
"I tried to keep to the storm and to the city as close as I could," Ruckman said.
By the time she decided to write the book, most of the destroyed areas had already been rebuilt, so Ruckman relied on details from the Rozendals' own circumstances as well as other personal accounts.
"People just opened up and told me things," she maintained. "In some way, 'Night of the Twisters' has some documentary qualities. I interviewed people who survived."
The idea for a movie came from the film's creative development producer, Bob Crawford, who had read the book to his son years ago, Ruckman said.
Some events in the book, written in 1984, mirror the stormy night more than 15 years ago, but much of the story is fictional. Ruckman's book has sold more than 300,000 copies and is used widely in children's classrooms.
"It's been just a steady-selling book," she said. "Something connects in this novel with young people."
The movie also spurred Ruckman to further her writing talents. She is authoring a screenplay for one of her books, "No Way Out," the story of people caught in a Utah flash flood.
"It made me want to try an adaptation," she said. "I've been reading lots and lots of scripts and going to workshops."
Adapting her book into a film has also given Ruckman a new appreciation for movies. She has already viewed an unedited version of "Night of the Twisters" and realizes why changes have to be made.
"It's hard for me to say how different it is," she said. "It is different. I think they've tried to keep the spirit of the book. Š I've been in on it every step of the way."
That, of course, doesn't mean they always took Ruckman's advice.
"Now that I've written a screenplay, I can say I understand all of this," Ruckman noted. "A movie is a different medium."
The movie's biggest disappointment is that the city's name was changed from Grand Island to the fictional Blainsworth.
"I did lobby for this. In fact, I was hoping they would film it here, too," she said. "They looked into that."
Starring John Schneider, the movie was shot in Toronto. Schneider is known for his television stint on "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Ruckman didn't get to meet the film's headliner because his scenes were through by the time she visited the set, but "I did get to sit on John Schneider's chair," she chuckled. "It was a thrill to see how things were done."
The 25-year veteran author, who began her career teaching high school English, has had 13 novels published and another on the way. She will return to Hastings on April 13 to see her brother, Dr. William Myers, accept the Hastings College Alumni Award.
"I still consider Hastings my home."