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Ten Years
'Tornado Hill' turns a tragedy into benefit

By Brad Frisvold
Independent Staff Writer

Even though June 3, 1980, caused damages that will remain, the damages have given much enjoyment over the past years to some who may not recall the occurences of that day.

What has become known as Tornado Hill, located in Ryder Park, was created from the tornadoes' destruction and through that creation has come much wintertime sledding enjoyment for children.

The idea of creating such a hill came from Grand Island Public Works Director Wayne Bennett.

Bennett said he first saw a hill-type creation while serving in the Army in West Germany.

''I was stationed in Germany and was in Munich when they were building for the 1972 Olympics. Near the same area was a large hill that was the remnants from the bombings in World War II,'' Bennett said.

The hill in Munich was a nicely grassed area, Bennett said, and he thought a hill in Grand Island would be an asset to the area.

''Grand Island doesn't have many hills, so I though it would be a way to get rid of the debris and create a recreational benefit at the same time,'' he said.

The project of creating a hill actually began with the initial cleanup of the debris.

Grand Island Parks and Recreation Director Steve Paustian said using the city landfill was out of the question.

''If all the debris had been taken to the landfill, it would have filled it up,'' Paustian said.

Bennett said three sites around the city were designated as debris dump sites, the main one being located on Fonner Park property just east of the main race track.

Debris was collected on the sites and then burned, Bennett said, allowing wood and other material to decompose.

''The pile (at Fonner Park) was about the size of the inside of the race track and about 10-20 feet high,'' he said.

After approximately three weeks of smoldering and burning, the piles were soaked with water, Bennett said, and then the hauling process began.

The city contracted Hooker Brothers of Grand Island to clear the burn sites, create the hill and seed both areas back to grass, Bennett said.

The hill, which reaches almost 40 feet in height, actually started out as a hole, said Rod Hooker, who was foreman of the project.

''We had to excavate a hole six or eight feet deep before we started hauling the debris in,'' Hooker said.

The hole created was circular in shape, reaching approximately 200 feet in diameter, Hooker said.

Each evening, he said the crew would cover the days debris hauled in with fill to compact the material and to give the hauling trucks an area to drive on.

Hooker said the company also subcontracted the services of other local contractors to haul all the material to the site.

Bob DeLarm, who worked for subcontracted Ellington Plumbing and Heating at the time, said hauling the debris could sometimes be interesting.

''The fire in the debris was supposed to be out when we hauled it, but a lot of it was still smoldering. On one trip I made, I was coming up South Locust and I thought I saw something smoking.

''It turned out the buckboards on the side of the truck had caught on fire. It was a new box with pretty blue paint and it just scorched it,'' DeLarm said.

In all, Hooker said about 13 trucks were used to haul the debris to the hill site. From memory, he estimated the project lasted approximately six weeks.

Paustian said the hill has turned the park into a more recreational area. ''What we really did was to kill two birds with one stone. It provided a way to get rid of the debris and it also created a recreational activity for the kids,'' he said.

Driving by the hill, one may never expect remnants of tornado destruction to be buried within. One thing that is visible are the posted signs: ''Caution: watch for children on sleds.''