Family will ‘never forget’

Girl named after great-great grandmother who died in Tracy tornado

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the deadly F-5 tornado that ripped through Tracy, killing nine people and obliterating more than 100 homes.

Among those who lost their lives that day were 2-year-old Nancy Vlahos, 47-year-old Walter Swanson, 50-year-old Barbara Holbrook, 60-year-old Paul Swanson, 71-year-old Fred Pilatus, 75-year-old Otelia Werner, 75-year-old Ellen Morgan, 75-year-old Mildred Harden and 84-year-old Ella Haney.

“My grandma Ella was found a couple of blocks from where her house was,” Dave Haney of Marshall said. “People said she was in the habit of taking a nap and she’d take her hearing aids out. We think that’s what she was doing. Ella’s house ended up being leveled.”

Haney, who was 9 years old on June 13, 1968, said he remembers his mom and dad (Joe and Evelyn Haney) getting a dreadful phone call.

“They went down there the next day, I think,” Haney said. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a little park right next to (my uncle) Bill’s house and it was full of cars, trees and parts of houses. There was so much piled up in that little park. Even at 9 years old, that’s something you don’t forget.”

This past weekend, the family of Ella Marie Haney gathered to show their respect and to take part in the 50-year remembrance activities in Tracy. “Never Forget” was appropriately chosen as the theme.

Among the family members of the late Ella Haney was little 6-year-old Ella Haney, who was named in memory of her great-great grandmother.

“My husband Joe and I saw an article in the Marshall Independent on the 40th anniversary of the Tracy tornado,” Sara (Saxton) Haney said. “At this time, having another child was only a thought in our minds. Joe was the one who had read the article and had told me about Ella and how he would love to name our daughter after her ― if we ever had one. We thought it would be a wonderful way to honor Ella and the Haney family while also bringing in my hometown as I had grown up in Tracy.”

Dave Haney said he was excited, but surprised, when his son and daughter-in-law shared the information with him.

“I was impressed when Joe and Sara said they were considering that name for a girl,” he said. “It’s a really nice tribute.”

Along with son, Dylan, Joe and Sara Haney ended up being blessed with another child. Ella Jane Haney was born Oct. 5, 2011.

“Joe and I are too young to have ever met (the late) Ella, but we have heard many stories about her and her love for the outdoors and gardening,” Sara Haney said. “I see many traits that young Ella has that Ella Marie had also. Ella loves being outdoors, helping Daddy in the garden, fishing and camping.”

Haney said they’ve had conversations with their daughter about how she is named after her great-great grandmother.

“I’m just not sure how much she fully understands about the tornado and the history of it,” Haney said. “This past weekend, we celebrated Ella Marie Haney with a family reunion at the Caboose in Tracy. My family then went to watch them release the balloons for those who died. After the reunion, we went to the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum and looked through the buildings and all their memorial items about the tornado.”

Haney said they’d heard there was a photo of the late Ella in the museum, but they were not able to find it.

Dave Haney was instrumental in organizing the Haney family reunion.

“We got together five years ago, too, when they put up the new memorial,” he said. “My youngest son (Ed) and his family were there that day. For the 50th anniversary, I organized a family reunion. I sent emails and made phone calls. We had a pretty good turnout. We all had a lot of fun and were able to get caught up.”

A total of 55 people showed up for the Haney family reunion.

“I’m the youngest of the first cousins,” Dave Haney said. “I just thought it was kind of cool that they were having this 50th anniversary celebration. Most of my relatives were from around the Tracy area, but they also came from Wisconsin and Iowa. The closest was half a block away from the memorial.”

Haney said family members met for lunch and then a lot of them went down to the new memorial along Highway 14.

“We went over there and took some pictures,” Haney said. “One of the photos was of 10 first cousins. Then different families took pictures. We’d also made name tags with grandmother’s picture on them. They came in handy because there were several people who we couldn’t identify at first. We used to have reunions quite often, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s five years or more in between.”

While Ella Marie Haney’s memory lives on, so do the Tracy tornado stories. Some of those stories are captured in “Out of the Blue” by Scott Thoma, who also organized the 50-year remembrance festivities this past weekend.

“Scott did a great job,” Dave Haney said.

Others are passed along to friends and family members. While nine people were tragically lost that day, it’s a blessing that more lives weren’t ended by the spontaneous natural disaster.

“Ella lived a block from my other grandparents in the ‘Green Town’ section,” Haney said. “So all four of my grandparents at one time were all within a block of each other. My dad’s brother, Bill, also lived nearby and their house was just gone. The storm went a little bit northeast and took my Grandma Haney’s house. Bill’s business, which was located by the telephone office, got destroyed, too.”

Haney said his grandma on his mom’s side (Ethel Harris) lived one block north.

“The tornado shifted her house off the foundation a little bit,” he said. “There was no basement. She thought the noise she heard outside was a train ― the train tracks were about 150 yards from her house. She looked out the window and saw this thing coming around the corner. She didn’t have time to try and get to the little root cellar. She just stood in the dining room and hoped it didn’t take her.”