The day after an April 14 Kiowa County tornado destroyed the home of Clair and Wilda Banta, volunteers began clearing debris and fallen trees surrounding the decimated family farmstead.
“I just didn’t know how to go about thanking people,” said Clair Banta last week. “We had a lot of help.”
Banta and his wife Wilda raised their five children in the farmhouse, built by Banta’s grandparents.
“We lived there and all of our kids grew up out there,” said Mrs. Banta. “There were three bedrooms upstairs. We had two boys in each room and our daughter had her own room. But there was only one bathroom, which was interesting.”
For the Bantas the house represented a lifetime of memories, as one would suspect from years of family life.
The Bantas’ son Chris’s ashes were spread at the farm. Mr. Banta remembers jacking up the house and pouring a foundation, as it had been originally built without one.
For a time his sister Evon, who had moved back from California, lived there with her husband Andy Boles. And more recently, his nephew Randy had moved into the house, even giving it a fresh coat of paint just before the EF3 tornado passed directly over the house at around 8:30 p.m. that Saturday.
“He was pretty shook up,” said Banta. “He lost everything he had. His vehicles, his bailer, everything and he had no insurance. I have no idea what he’s going to do.”
The house hasn’t been taken down yet, but Banta says it is only a matter of time. He said that the house was insured, but not for very much.
The land will stay in the family and a repaired fence will open up his pastures to grazing again.
“I was renting out the pastures and Randy was living in the house. I’ll continue to rent out the pastures, but no we won’t rebuild anything out there.”
Anyone who knows Mr. Banta also knows his love for his Ford Model-T motorcars, and his stockpile of original parts.
“I had another trailer out there that was filled with Model T car stuff. [the tornado] turned that trailer over, took it and planted it out there in the field, in a pile. I am sure some of those [parts] left the county, but where they ended up I don’t know. I’ve looked for some of them. They might be up in Macksville somewhere,” he laughed.
The next day, Sunday, the Bantas began receiving clean up volunteers. Mr. and Mrs. Banta expressed a true appreciation for the work that the volunteers did.
“Matt Deighton organized the AmeriCorps volunteers as well as the Pratt Community College people on the first day,” said Banta. “I know all of these guys from Pratt ’cause I went over there and took night classes for four years. The Senior Center, Keri Kyle and the seniors made everyone sandwiches, which we want to thank them for that.
“One of the other people I also want to thank is Ted Kyle. My tractor had a hole in the tank and Ted ordered a new one. I put it in there and it got a leak. Chris Worth came out and helped me fix it but when I went to fill it up, it leaked again. I fixed it and it looks like it’s OK now.
“Jim Scheuerman left his skid loader out there for us and he said ‘go ahead and use that thing for most of the summer’ and so it’s still out there. I really owe him.
“The Lion’s Club gave us a Dillon’s gift card. I haven’t used it yet, but that was very nice.
“Jeremy Butler brought his company’s skid loader and worked all day the Saturday after the tornado so I want to thank him also.
The Bantas also had high praise for the Bethel Mennonite Church, who came the following Monday on behalf of the Mennonite Disaster Relief Fund.
“Don Unruh came on Monday,” he said. “His group, the Mennonites, they really worked. They clean up most of the other side of the house. If you go up there you’ll notice how much they did. They were really organized. They have all of the equipment and you don’t have to tell them what to do, they know. I told them that they didn’t need to cut the tress into short logs, they could make long ones, so the wood wouldn’t be wasted.”
“They came ready to go,” said Mrs. Banta. “They put people everywhere. They were always loading the trucks, no one was standing still.”
Clair and Wilda also wanted to thank the students from the Pratt Community College Automotive and Farm Departments, the Pratt High School students and members of the community who spent the weekend clearing brush, twisted metal and fallen trees.
“We had a lot of neighbors who came out and helped,” she added.