COAL CITY – On the night of June 22, 2015, the village of Coal City lost about 50,000 trees when an EF3 tornado ripped through town and tore trunks, limbs and branches apart.
Many of those trees, particularly near Broadway Street, were decades old. What’s left of one such tree sits at Campbell Memorial Park across from the Village Hall and police department.
The tree’s large stump was given new meaning this summer when village officials attached to it a plaque commemorating the resilience of the community and how it came together in trying times, Village Administrator Matt Fritz said in June.
A ceremony was to be held on the one-year anniversary of the tornado, but, ironically, it was canceled due to severe weather.
Ken Miller, a resident of Coal City since 1972, chaired the Long-Term Recovery Committee that oversaw donation of funds and other efforts to assist residents in their recoveries. The committee has since disbanded, and while the plaque dedication was organized by the village and he had no involvement, Miller said Tuesday it’s a fitting way to honor a community that truly unified as one.
“There’s these situations happening in our country where a community gets torn apart,” Miller said. “It makes you wonder if the community spirit is still there. Our community’s response to the tornado reinforced that spirit is still there. My heart was so warmed by that.”
A total of 884 properties were damaged by the tornado, which left a 16.5-mile-long, 3⁄4-mile-wide path of destruction. Now, about 13 months later, Miller estimated 95 percent of affected people are back to normal.
For Coal City residents, there’s no secret as to why.
The plaque reads: “With our town in shambles, numerous agencies, volunteers and townspeople stepped up to help their neighbors and their town.”
Assistance came from the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, United Way of Grundy County, Community Foundation of Grundy County and more. Miller said people at his church asked him, “How could God let this happen?” Miller replied that God wasn’t in the tornado, he was in what happened after it.
“It renewed my faith in human nature,” Miller said. “People poured out their hearts and time to help us.”
Village officials recognized this as well, as the plaque continued to read: “From a grateful village, this plaque is dedicated to everyone who helped in bringing Coal City and its residents back to normal.”
Coal City resident and Community Foundation of Grundy County Program Director Devan Gagliardo said the plaque shows how much the village has progressed through such a tough time, noting that it signifies a fresh start while not forgetting what happened. It’s a reminder, also, that about 30 people still are displaced from the tornado, and they are not forgotten.