‘Never Forget!’ Glenda Fink’s grandmother died in Tracy tornado
The phone call Glenda Fink got 50 years ago still resonates with her.
The call came from her older sister Fern, who was living in Worthington. “Grandma was killed in the tornado in Tracy,” Fern told Glenda.
Glenda and Jim Fink of Minneota had been married only two years and were living in St. James when a rare F5 tornado struck Tracy on June 13, 1968, killing nine people and injuring 150 others.
Among the deceased was Glenda's grandmother Ella Haney, 84, a widow living in the Greenwood addition on the south side of Tracy.
“I remember hearing about the tornado late that night, but I didn't know my grandma had been killed at that time,” said Glenda.
“My mom and her sister had gone to Tracy after the tornado and found out about grandma (her mother’s mother). My mother called to tell Fern the news; and then Fern called me.”
Haney was well known in Tracy. She was known for her outstanding cooking prowess and became a cook at the former Tract Train Depot restaurant for many years.
“Grandma used to walk to work each day, following the train tracks to and from work,” said Glenda.
“Whenever I visited her, I remember she always had a cookie tin filled with delicious sugar cookies.” Haney also was an avid sewer, who often made “flour sack” dresses for Glenda and her sister. “She loved to sew,” said Glenda.
Those living in Haney’s neighborhood spoke glowingly about her flower and vegetable gardens, where she could often be found meticulously grooming.
On the sultry day of the tornado, she was weeding her vegetables. One of her neighbors interviewed by the Tracy Headlight Herald after the tornado said, “Ella saw that it was going to rain so she told me she was going to go inside and take a nap on the couch”.
Haney, who was hard of hearing, would often take out her hearing aids when she slept so as not to be disturbed. When the tornado struck, it completely destroyed her home.
Rescue workers located Haney next to her couch in the rubble several yards from her home. She did not have her hearing aids in, leading many to believe she died in her sleep. The Finks had moved to St. James in 1967 after Jim returned from the service.
The couple was expecting their second child at the time of the Tracy tornado. “We had tornado warnings in St. James that day, too,” she said. “We didn't have a tornado, but the weather was still pretty severe.”
The Finks didn't witness the damage in Tracy until they attended Ella Haney's funeral four days after the tornado struck. “The town had been cleaned up a lot by then, but it was still a terrible mess,” Glenda recalls.
“I couldn't tell where anything was in Greenwood.” “I remember that the gravel on all the roads out there was gone and they were just dirt. The trees were all stripped. It was an awful sight.
Uncle Bill (Haney), my mother's brother, and his wife Helen lived in Tracy and lost their home to the tornado.”
Glenda was one of 20 grandchildren to Daniel and Ella Haney, who also had 70 great-grandchildren.
Daniel had died 20 years before the tornado struck.
“I would always stay with grandma and grandpa for two weeks before school started,” said Glenda. “She was a very compassionate woman and never raised her voice, but you wouldn't want to get her mad.
She had a sharp tongue.”
Haney and the eight others killed in the tornado 50 years ago will be honored at the “Never Forget” event in Tracy on June 9.
Several activities will be held with all proceeds going for scholarships to Tracy Area High School students in the names of the nine people killed that day.
Nine black balloons will be released at noon at Central Park in Tracy as the names of those killed in the tornado will be read aloud.
“We plan on being there,” said Glenda.