Remembering those we lost

Hand-made crosses with the names of each of the victims anchored the balloons. A clock, set at 7:03 p.m., was also placed at the site as an homage to when the tornado struck —figuratively stopping time in Tracy. Photos / Per Peterson
A SINGLE BLACK BALLOON floats into the summer sky over Hwy. 14 during a ceremony last Thursday to honor one of the nine victims of the June 13, 1968 tornado. Each victim was honored by the release of a balloon.

In a solemn and unheralded ceremony on the 51st anniversary of the Tracy tornado, a new tradition carried on as nine black balloons were released into the sky to honor the 9 lives lost in the devastating storm.

By Per Peterson

VAL BRECZINSKI gets ready to release a balloon at Thursday’s ceremony. Breczinski was born on June 13, 1968 — the day the tornado stormed through Tracy.

Of course Val Breczinski doesn’t remember the day she was born, but then again, she’ll never forget it, either.

Breczinski came into this world at a Marshall hospital on June 13, 1968. To a number of Tracy residents of a certain era, that date has a hauntingly significant meaning — it was the day a powerful tornado invaded their small town from the west, ruining homes and businesses and stealing the lives of nine of its residents.

For her part, Breczinski was more than honored to attend last Thursday’s ceremony at the Hwy. 14 Tornado Memorial that honored the nine victims of the June 13, 1968 tornado.

“It’s cool,” she said. “I didn’t come last year because I didn’t want to take away from the 50th — I wanted them to celebrate the people that are gone. And that’s why I chose to be here today.”

Breczinski’s nickname is “Stormy,” and it’s a moniker she wears with pride and takes very seriously and personally.

“My brother called me (Thursday morning) and says, ‘Happy birthday, Stormy,’ so this means a lot to me.”

Breczinski said at the time of her birth, her nearly-2-year-old brother, David Roberts, was in Tracy with their uncle.

“The neighbors said, ‘You better get in the basement,’” Breczinski said.

Breczinski also is close to the Haneys, relatives of Ella Haney, one of the people lost in the tornado. She knows her son and grandsons.

“One of her sons was actually my dad’s boss in Marshall,” Breczinski said. “I pretty much know all her grandkids.”

One of those grandkids — named Ella after her grandmother — was there Thursday to cut the string on one of the nine black balloons that were released into the summer sky.

Thursday’s ceremony is one that “Out of the Blue” author Scott Thoma wants to continue. Thoma raised funds during last year’s 50th anniversary for nine scholarships that were given away at this year’s Senior Awards Night in memory of each of the victims. One of the scholarship winners, Cayden Buysse, was on hand last week to release one of the balloons.

“I”m going to try to do this every year,” said Thoma, a Tracy native who has dedicated himself to remembering the victims of the killer tornado. “Even if I’m the only one sitting here, I’ll be here.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more photos.