Progress 2011: Tornado Pastors

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hero: Deb Miller

Secret identity: pastor

Base of operations: Glenville United Methodist Church, Glenville

Deb Miller, Curtis Zieske and Dan Baker reached out to members of their congregations and the community after the tornadoes hit last June. Wendy Anderson is not pictured. -- Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune

Superpowers: encouraging people to strengthen their relationship with Jesus and engaging people in meaningful worship

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Kryptonite: wishing that everyone can just get along

Affiliations: husband, Bill; sons, Nathan and Ian

Origin: Miller lives in Owatonna and works at Spx in addition to serving God with the members of Glenville UMC.

The evening of the tornadoes, Miller’s co-worker from Spx called her, explaining that her boyfriend’s mother and father had been injured in the storm.

“She called as a friend, knowing I was a pastor,” said Miller.

The mother, Katherine Woodside, passed away that night. The father, Ron, remained hospitalized as he healed from sustaining 27 broken bones during the tornadoes. At the request of her friend, Miller presided at Katherine’s memorial service at the funeral home.

In addition, members of the Glenville UMC parish assisted several co-workers from Lou Rich in cleaning up and rebuilding their properties.

Hero: Curtis Zieske

Secret identity: pastor

Base of operations: Trinity Lutheran Church, Albert Lea

Superpowers: working with a lot of talented, gifted and willing servants of God

Kryptonite: none

Affiliations: wife, Sonya, and two grown children

Origin: Originally from Minnesota, Zieske spent 20 years in Washington and Oregon before moving to Colorado Springs, Colo., and then Albert Lea.

Zieske and his wife, Sonya, had been playing cards with friends when the tornado sirens went off. They raced home, closed up the house and turned on the TV. He remembers the power going out; sitting in the dark of the stairwell, talking with Sonya. He remembers a “great calm” after the storm passed.

Afterward, he hastily arranged to help a family of the parish who received heavy damage. The Sunday following the twister, Zieske and members of the congregation helped at the Wally and Sue Finks farm. He said they helped clear debris, “simple grunt work,” in hot and humid weather.

Zieske recalled feeling a couple of different emotions that day.

“It was disheartening to see cars, parades of cars, just drive by and look, and then drive away,” he said.

On the other hand, he was very impressed with how people really pulled together.

“I was really impressed with the number of people who showed up, from the parish and friends,” he said. “A lot who didn’t know each other, but shared the common task and stepped up to help.”

Hero: Dan Baker

Secret identity: pastor

Base of operations: First Lutheran Church, Albert Lea

Superpowers: “We are often welcomed into people’s lives in celebration and tragedy, so we’re ministering in many situations.”

Kryptonite: “We feel our own human limitations — we just can’t see or talk to everyone, have all the answers to every question or be available for every situation.”

Affiliations: wife, Karina; son, Caleb; daughter, Marissa

Origin: He grew up near Frost and then served Bethlehem and Deer Creek Valley Lutheran Churches near Glenville before coming to Albert Lea.

Baker and his family were on vacation in the Wisconsin Dells when the tornadoes struck, and he learned about the disaster from a cell phone message. Although he found his house intact upon arriving home, the damage just two miles down the road really made him realize the magnitude of the storms. He began talking with the members of his parish who were affected, and last July helped organize a healing service at First Lutheran Church.

“Since then, I’ve tried to follow up with visiting and really watching the progress of rebuilding, and restarting for some,” he said. “The scars are still there. There are visible scars as well as emotional and spiritual scars still there for many.”

Hero: Wendy Anderson

Secret identity: pastor

Base of operations: Concordia Lutheran Church of Pickerel Lake, Albert Lea

Superpowers: preaching and worship, connecting to the community

Kryptonite: messy office, micromanaging

Affiliations: none

Origin: She grew up in Caribou, Maine, and then came to Albert Lea after seminary in Chicago.

Anderson headed out to connect with folks after the tornado passed through. She helped a family whose roof was taken by the twister by driving to Walmart and getting cleanup supplies.

The next day, members of her congregation set up a food collection and preparation site in a machine shed near where several homes were hit. She continued to organize meals, help crews collect debris and talk to people, as well as pray with and for them, in the days that followed.

“I was amazed as I drove around in the days following the tornado at the number of folks who came to help their neighbors — it was awesome!” she said. “We held worship as scheduled that Sunday morning following and it was good to see the support of neighbors and friends for one another — there were tears and hugs but prayers of thanksgiving as well.”