Great-uncle Leroy survived a tornado

In the picture below, my father, Robert William Bergeson, is standing in front of the historic Rudolph/Parke House in Canton, South Dakota. He made a pilgrimage to Canton in the latter years of his life to visit the family home of his mother Gladys Parke Bergeson‘s parents, William Ulysses Parke and  Helena Redfield Parke, and her grandparents, William Marion Parke and Rebecca Hart Parke.

Robert Bergeson visits the Rudolph/Parker house in Canton, South Dakota

The Rudolph/Parke House was built in 1902 and there’s a very compelling reason why it was built in that year. In the last week of June, 1902, when my great-grandfather William U. Parke and his family were visiting relatives in Iowa, a tornado ravaged the Canton area and destroyed both his home and the home of his parents, William M. and Rebecca H. Parke. William M. Parke’s house was under construction at the time, but was destroyed before it could be completed.

According the the July 4, 1902 edition of the Dakota Farmer Leader, an article titled “A Cyclone Experience” describes what happened:

“Mr. Parke’s new house was demolished in an instant, and up to Friday morning two sides of it could not be found. The roof was some distance away. All the out buildings but the little granary were swept or demolished. Will Parke’s house went also, and his little son who was alone in the house, tried to hold the door and keep the wind from getting inside, thus hoping to save the property.

The little hero did all he could but the tornado was too much for him. A wagon standing close to the house was not even moved while the house went.”

My great-uncle, Leroy Lowell Parke, was the “little hero” in the newspaper article. He was 13 years old in 1902 and for some reason hadn’t gone with his family to visit the relatives in Iowa. I imagine someone had to stay behind to feed the livestock. It’s amazing that he survived the experience!

When his family returned to South Dakota the day after the tornado, they saw the devastation that they had missed. The newspaper article puts it this way:

“Will Parke got home from Hawarden in the afternoon, where he and his family had a narrow escape. He, too, will have a new house up soon and that scene of the terrible storm on Saddle Creek will only live in memory.”

The “new house” to which the article refers is the Rudolph/Parke house that is still standing today and is on the National Register of Historic Places (see the photo below of the commemorative plague that graces the house today). I’ve included a picture of a Parke family reunion from 1922 so that you can see the familiar elements that are clearly visible in the picture with my father over a century later.

I have yet to make my pilgrimage to South Dakota to visit the Saddle Creek homestead and Beresford and the Rudolph/Parke House in Canton, but rest assured, they’re all on my  “must do” list. 2018 might just be the year!

William Ulysses Parke family
William Ulysses Parke family Back row: Elsie Pearl Parke; Leroy Lowell Parke; Blanche Ruth Parke; Gladys Rebecca Parke Front row: William Ulysses Parke; Helana Redfield Parke
Parke Family Reunion 1922
Parke Family Reunion 1922 Back row L to R: George Alfred Bergh; Ragnvald Bergeson; Gladys Parke Bergeson; Ardis Ruth Westby; Elsie Parke Bergh; William Ulysses Parke; Frances Parke Westby Front row L to R: Blanche Parke Westby; Peter Martin Westby; Mildred Bernice Westby; Dale Maurice Bergh; Dwight William Bergh; Helena Redfield Parke
Rudolph/Parke House, Canton, South Dakota
Rudolph/Parke House, Canton, South Dakota

One thought on “Great-uncle Leroy survived a tornado

Leave a Reply