Path of destruction

Pilger, a bedroom community a half-hour east of Norfolk, Nebraska, was incorporated in 1887. Since then the village has grown and become home to various businesses and churches. As residents pick up the pieces from Monday's tornado, learn more about Pilger's main attractions — some of which survived the tornado and others that didn't fare as well.

By Roseann Moring and David Hendee

1 Village Clerk's Office 220 N. Main St.


Status: damaged

The Clerk's Office is the place to pay bills, license a dog or buy a cemetery plot. A five-member board runs the village. The local government oversees zoning and supplies water and trash services. One of the town's wells was behind the office. Board Chairman Jim Duncan recalls when a water tank was delivered by train several years ago and rolled through the village before being installed. Pilger is also home of the Hampshire hog that portrayed "Blue Boy" in one version of the movie "State Fair."

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After

2 Pilger Store 155 W. First St.


Status: heavily damaged

The co-op owns the convenience store and gas station, which was the place in town to rent movies or buy grocery items (including fresh meat), beer, coffee, soft drinks, ice and lottery tickets.

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After

3 Pilger Public Library 120 N. Main St.


Status: mostly intact, with some roof damage — but the books survived

The library contains about 25,000 volumes, and more than a third of the villagers are users. It was established in 1935 by the Pilger Women's Group and moved into its current building in 1994.

Before

After

4 Pilger Pool 400 W. Second St.


Status: escaped unscathed

Residents raised funds to build the pool, partially through "corn feed and hamburger" fundraisers. The pool opened in 2008 and offers swimming lessons. The town-run facility draws attendance from around the area.

5 Pilger Senior Center 119 N. Main St.


Status: damaged

The building previously housed a movie theater, then a cafe. Eventually the civic improvement club bought it for senior citizens. It hosts meals, and people often gather there to play cards and take part in other activities.

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After

6 Stanton County Museum 345 N. Main St.


Status: escaped unscathed

The museum survived the storm. Residents say much of the content is irreplaceable: stacks of old newspapers, a doll purchased for the town's centennial, photographs of all of the former students of a particular teacher. Some history books tell the story of Pilger and the surrounding areas. The Pilger Historical Society runs the museum out of the former Baptist church.

7 Wisner-Pilger Middle School 350 E. Second St.


Status: heavily damaged, and might not be salvageable

Fifth- and sixth-graders from the Pilger and Wisner area attended the school. The two school districts merged in the late 1960s, and this school became an elementary. Eventually the district combined the Wisner and Pilger elementary schools in Wisner and moved the middle school to Pilger. Four years ago voters rejected a bond issue that would have moved all the schools to Wisner, in part because of Pilger residents who didn't want to lose their school.

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After

8 St. Peter Lutheran Church 230 S. Madison St.


Status: escaped unscathed

The church was built in 1949 for $30,000. At that time Pilger's previous St. Peter Church had just merged with St. Petri Evangelical Church south of Pilger and the Danish Lutheran St. Pauli Church. St. Peter is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The village was previously home to other churches, including Baptist and Methodist.

9 St. John Lutheran Church 150 N. Monroe St.


Status: leveled

Lutheran services were conducted in Pilger dating back to the 1890s — and back then, usually in German — but St. John wasn't constructed until the 1930s. Because of growth, the congregation built a new church for about $55,000. It was dedicated in 1961 and featured the bell from the old church, which had been donated by a youth group. The church is affiliated with the Missouri Synod.

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After

10 Fire Department 240 N. Main St.


Status: building sustained some damage but the trucks did not

The Pilger Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department provides service to about 100 square miles around Pilger. The station houses two ambulances and four firetrucks. About 20 people volunteer for the department. A truck and an ambulance were on their way to a call in nearby Stanton when the tornado hit.

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After

11 Farmers Cooperative 105 W. First St.


Status: several bins blew away; massive piles of corn and soybeans left on ground

Pilger's Farmers Cooperative has long formed a meaningful portion of the village's economy. It survived wage cuts during the Great Depression and a 1938 fire. It later expanded to various Pilger shops. Cooperative-owned grain bins and a wooden elevator stood as landmarks in the middle of town, and the co-op had recently added several new bins. During the tornado, six employees took shelter in the co-op office vault. Many other employees, customers and passers-by huddled in the co-op convenience store's meat locker.

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After

12 Minnick Funeral Home 115 N. Main St.


Status: damaged

The recent history of the funeral home dates to 1983, when Mike Kuzelka bought the Wisner facility he managed and expanded it to Pilger. In 2000 longtime employee Jason Minnick and his wife, Becky, bought the business, which included a facility in Beemer. They opened a new facility in West Point in 2001. The Pilger facility was used as a visitation chapel. After the tornado, Jason Minnick salvaged antiques significant to Pilger's past, including historic crockery, bowls and light fixtures from an old Missouri Synod Lutheran Church southeast of Wisner.

13 Midwest Bank 105 N. Main St.


Status: heavily damaged, as were the former apartments above

The existing Farmers National Bank of Pilger was bought by the Coopers, a longtime farming family, in 1952. The building previously housed a clothing store, a newspaper and a food shop. During the storm, bank President Gene Willers locked five bank employees, two workers from a neighboring business and an ATM representative in the vault. He took shelter in the cellar. After the tornado passed, the group came out and saw another twister moving toward the bank. Willers locked the eight in the vault again and headed for the cellar. They all emerged unharmed.

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After

14 Morrow, Davies & Toelle PC 110 W. First St.


Status: heavily damaged

Certified public accountant Diane Davies bought the practice in 1981, and in 1984 it expanded to include other accountants. The town's 1987 centennial book reported that the firm prepared about 300 to 400 tax returns. It also performed audits of school districts, villages and the Office on Aging.

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After

15 Post office 135 N. Main St.


Status: heavily damaged

Pilger's downtown post office also served the surrounding rural area. It survived years of federal cutbacks that targeted rural post offices. "We were lucky to keep it as long as we have," Village Board Chairman Jim Duncan said. During the tornado, employees sheltered in the building. A wall fell in toward them, and a postal truck saved them.

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After

16 Village Cafe and Bar 139 N. Main St.


Status: damaged

Owner Linda Oertwich bought the building 15 years ago. It had housed a bar and grill for as long as she can remember. She had operated another cafe down the street. The cafe and bar has been open seven days a week. Oertwich's signature sandwich is the VCB Burger: ground beef topped with bacon and Swiss and American cheese on a kaiser bun. The cafe also hosted monthly fish fries. During the storm, Oertwich, an employee and a customer took shelter between the bathroom doors near the back of the building.

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After

17 Water Tower Fourth and Stanton Streets


Status: escaped unscathed

The Pilger water tower is visible from U.S. Highway 275 and serves as a welcome into town.

Sources: Pilger centennial book; interviews with current and former residents, including Jim Duncan, the Village Board chairman and historical society president; business owners; Village of Pilger website; census data; World-Herald News Service; World-Herald archives; Nebraska Library Commission; Wisner News-Chronicle staff; Google Maps


National Weather Service damage assessment

Click each point on the map to see details about damage in that location. All map data provided by the National Weather Service.