A local Card and Cash Drive has been established for an Oak Grove family with strong ties to the Vandalia community.
Bruce Johnson, Van-Far Class of 1974, and his wife Brenda, Class of 1975, had their lives changed forever on Monday, March 7 when an EF-3 tornado destroyed their home.
Friends and family of the childhood sweethearts are asking for donations of gift cards, prepaid cash cards, cash, and/or checks to be dropped off at Central Bank of Audrain County in Vandalia or the Country Cupboard to help the Johnsons in their time of need.
A bank account has been set up at the Vandalia branch and checks can be made out to Bruce or Brenda Johnson.
The Johnson’s home was one of 483 homes that sustained damage, with their home being completely destroyed, in a storm where fortunately no deaths have been reported.
The National Weather Service reported the tornado packed a top wind speed of 152 m.p.h. and had a maximum width of about 400 yards or four football fields.
It first touched down south of nearby Grain Valley around 8:12 p.m. before traveling through Oak Grove to west of Odessa, traveling about 12 miles in just 15 minutes.
“I’m just so thankful, and appreciative, and humbled and we’ve been changed forever in a good way,” Brenda Johnson said. “This has been an unexpected blessing that this happened. Underneath these emotions are not trauma and fear but a peace and calm. To think someone like us would be in an eye of a tornado would feel traumatized but we don’t feel that at all. We just feel thankful and calm and God is just ordering our steps now. One of the first things we prayed when we held each other that night is that he would help us make wise decisions.”
The Johnsons were like most couples that particular Monday evening as they were watching the TV news to get the latest information on the storm.
Brenda said she looked outside and noticed dark, black clouds in the lightning. They had already heard the tornado was spotted in Grain Valley but it apparently was moving much quicker than was reported. She texted her daughter just before the couple went downstairs as a precaution.
While standing in the middle of the family room of their three-level home, she noticed she didn’t have her shoes or her purse.
As she was thinking about going back upstairs to get them, the wind became what she described as “very, very strong.”
Just then, Bruce asked her if her ears just popped as there was a noticeable pressure change. She said yes and the couple quickly moved into a half bathroom located under their porch.
“It hit immediately,” Brenda said. “If we had hesitated, we would have been under the rubble.”
Bruce hovered over his wife in the bathroom as the couple could hear the crashing, twisting, and breaking of their home in the storm.
“I remember him saying the tornado is on top of us,” she said as her husband’s arms were clinging around her to protect her.
She also said they didn’t feel like they could be sucked out of the bathroom by the storm. In the bathroom, a picture with a Christian faith expression on the stool didn’t fall. A towel even remained on the towel rack.
“I give all the glory to God because He protected us,” Brenda said. “…In that bathroom, He protected us…It was just like a safe haven to protect us from the storm.”
When the storm stopped, Bruce used his flashlight to look outside of the bathroom.
Brenda then texted her daughter that the couple was okay but the house was gone. When looking at the time stamp for her two texts, the difference in time was just three minutes.
“If I had gone when I first thought about getting my purse and my shoes, I would have never made it to the basement,” she noted.
The entire home was destroyed except for the bathroom the couple was in under the porch and an adjacent laundry room.
“People would come (later) and look at the pile and the small hole where we were and they couldn’t believe it,” Brenda said.
After the storm, the Johnsons were not completely out of trouble.
There was a strong natural gas smell from their home and the couple had no way to climb a large pile of rubble to escape.
A neighbor spoke loudly to see if the couple was okay and were asked what they needed while it was still pouring down raining.
Of course, Brenda didn’t have any shoes.
A neighbor’s wife went and grabbed some boots with thick soles and threw them in the Johnson’s direction. “(Bruce) put them on my feet and they fit me perfectly,” Brenda said as it was just another example to her of God’s provision.
While encouraging the helpers to go check on others in the neighborhood, a friend helped to drag over a railing from the couples’ front porch so the Johnsons could use it to climb out of the debris.
“We stood there and praised God that we were alive,” Brenda said. “…It was just an unbelievable experience.”
Bruce and Brenda stayed at their daughter Shannon Brown’s home in Odessa before returning the next morning.
“It was a shock to see it all over again,” Brenda said. “We had nothing left. We were hoping to find some things that meant something…We had family and friends work hard for two days. We dug through the debris, lifting lumber…”
The Johnsons were also overwhelmed as area residents that they didn’t even know were helping them sift through the debris to find things like her purse (which had everything still intact), photo albums, and even her wedding ring.
Brenda had taken her ring off on Monday evening and put it loose on her dresser. A volunteer eventually found the ring in her back yard against another house in the dirt. Brenda said people also brought food out to the driveway so folks could keep working. Her State Farm agent said in another community he was at, folks were waiting for a long time for cleaning companies to arrive to help while she was receiving an abundance of support.
“We were shocked people from Oak Grove came to our street to help the worst area and were digging through things,” Brenda added.
She said many people even took to their own homes the couple’s clothes found at the site to wash them for the couple.
Brenda said their future plans include not building a home on the same street.
“We raised our two children there; we have many happy memories there,” she said. “That door closed so it’s time to move on. Not sure we want to live in that spot, not out of fear, but that door’s closed. We will build somewhere in the area. That will be down the road once we get all of the pieces in place.”
Another of God’s provision for the couple is where they are living now.
Though their daughter offered them a place to stay, a Lee’s Summit man heard their story and has since offered a fully furnished home to the couple to help them in their time of transition.
“It was another piece that fell in place that helped us,” Brenda said. “God is truly taking care of our steps…We are just thankful for the all of the help people have given us.”
The Johnsons were interviewed by ABC News, appeared on Good Morning America, and were visited by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. Bruce Johnson recently retired from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. He is the son of Carol Johnson and the late George Johnson. Brenda is the daughter of Grant and Mildred Nolan. They have a son Rhett and his wife Jessica, who live in Columbia, as well as a daughter Shannon Brown, who lives with her husband Jason in Odessa.
“I give all praise and glory to God,” Brenda said. “He saved us and he provided that place and we walked away very humbled and we are thankful, not only for this community, but places like Vandalia, who are willing to help,” she said.