While Spencer, South Dakota may not offer a blueprint for bouncing back from a town-leveling tornado; the experience of a veteran of the 1998 twister carries a compelling message for those thinking of rebuilding in Greensburg.


While Spencer, South Dakota may not offer a blueprint for bouncing back from a town-leveling tornado; the experience of a veteran of the 1998 twister carries a compelling message for those thinking of rebuilding in Greensburg.
“Put it together right and don’t let the contractors cut corners,” Steve Tillotson advises. “And don’t try to do it cheap. Spend another ten grand and anchor it as much as you can. You never know when another one’s going to hit you.”
Tillotson should know, having lost four houses, including his home, and all his buildings nine years ago on his property bordering Spencer’s city limits on its southwest corner.
 The 47-year-old native of McCook County could hardly believe his eyes when he looked out his front door shortly after 7 p.m. the evening of May 5, the day after Greensburg was leveled, spotting yet another tornado bearing down on him.
“It was coming straight for me and I said, ‘Oh God, here we go again,’” Tillotson recalls. “It wasn’t as big as the one that hit in ’98, maybe 75 feet across at the base, just an F1, but it hit the house dead on.
“But all I lost was a couple of windows, some shingles and a door. My deck out back is still there, ten feet off the ground like it was before. And my house is still standing. It should be the way I build it.”
Tillotson starting construction on his current residence in February of ’99, moving in the following January, 19 months after he lost everything to the F4 of ’98. He remembers sparing no expense, using ring chains rather than regular smooth nails, incorporating steel plates and rebar with twice the normal amount of concrete in fashioning his foundation.
His sister, Nancy, who now lives on the old family farm three miles north of town after losing her house in Spencer nine years ago, remembers Steve being “obsessed with building a house that would stand up to another tornado.”
 Tillotson, however, prefers to think of his self-imposed building code as being conscientious, in spite of what his neighbors often said.
 “Several people helped me build it and they all said it was overkill,” he said. “But I just told them I was doing this for my peace of mind. I wanted it to stay if it was hit again.
“It was hit again, and it did stay. Overkill? I call it peace of mind.”
Other than taking a neighbor’s shingles and shed the May 5 twister did no real damage in or around Spencer. Another tornado the night before, however, took out the farm of a hog producer 25 miles to the southwest of Tillotson, while two more funnels have since touched down several miles to his east.
 “We seem to get a lot of them up through here,” Tillotson observed. “I’m sure there’ll be more, and the next one may be stronger than an F1.
“But I’ll be here after it’s come and gone, and so will my house. I’m pretty sure of that, unless it’s another F4. If it’s that bad I might not be able to keep my deck.”
(Tillotson said anyone wanting to visit with him in more detail as to how he built his current home can call him at 605 246 2334.)