XENIA, Ohio (WDTN) – Richard “Dick” Strous looked outside of James’ Super Valu store and saw a big dark cloud coming from the west. Minutes later the store was destroyed.
45 years ago Xenia was hit by a Violent F-5 Tornado. On April 3, 1974, the town was changed forever.
“That happened to be my day to work,” Strous said.
Strous was part owner and co-manager of James’ Super Valu.
“It was just a normal day of taking care of customers and directing the help that was there, nothing out of the ordinary.
At 4:40 p.m. that all changed.
“A police officer came in the door and yelled that the storm was coming,” Strous said. “I looked out the front of the store and it was just like a big dark cloud.”
Strous said there were about 40 people in the store at that time. He quickly directed them to the basement.
“The ones that were still on the first floor I had them stoop down and get in front of the frozen food cases and things to that there was a little more protection,” Strous said, “and then it hit.”
Minutes later the winds passed and Strous immediately begin to make sure everyone was ok.
“Everybody got out of the store and there was no one hurt,” Strous said.
The building turned out to be more than 60% damaged. Strous said it was deemed a total loss.
“We secured the front of the building. It was all glass. We found doors and whatever we could put into the windows so that we could be a little more protected,” Strous said, “and also so we could keep people from coming in.”
He said they were fortunate because nobody was looting.
The store was between the sheriff’s office and the police station.
“The only people that we had were law enforcement and fire people come to the store to get items that they might be able to use,” Strous said.
Flashlight batteries, ice, and bandages were a few of the items they needed.
“A lot of people look at you kind of funny when you tell them this thing,” Strous said, “but one of the things that the fire department, police and so on, wanted was sanitary napkins to use as bandages and band-aids.”
They also supplied food to anyone that needed it.
“We just stayed there to secure the place and if they needed anything we did whatever we could to help them,” Strous said.
Today Lee Warren looks back at photos on the front page of the Xenia Daily Gazette.
“This paper brings back a lot of memories,” Warren said. “It sort of shows the devastation at James’ Super Valu Store.”
Warren worked for Strous when he was in high school.
“He is a person that’s vested in Xenia and he was instrumentally involved that fateful day of the tornado,” Warren said.
James’ Super Valu was one of 1,237 structures demolished after the storm, but Xenia didn’t stay down for long.
“The clean up started within a few days, a short period after that,” Strous said.
James’ Super Valu wasn’t rebuilt in the same location. Strous was involved in the purchase of another store on the north side of town.
“We didn’t give up on the city, and we worked with them,” Strous said. “They worked with us. It was a growing or a rebuilding processes for all of us and it was real challenging. I have to say, not that many people got discouraged.”
Strous was with James’ Super Valu for 27 years. Eventually, that store was bought.
“Ironically enough,” Strous said, “when the store out there eventually went through several owners after we had it and it was destroyed by a tornado too.”
In 2000 Strous found part of his old store in the church he took shelter in on September 20.
“We’ve had three tornadoes here in town and I was in the first one. I was around when the second small one came, and the third one,” Strous said, “I was involved in it also because it was at our church on Country Club Dr. in 2000.”
These pieces are now part of the display at the Greene County Historical Society along with other things found after both major tornadoes.
“When you talk about tornadoes, most of the people my age and so on, they don’t take it lightly. They aren’t afraid,” Strous said, “but they don’t just take it lightly. They’re very serious about that, and it will probably stay with us forever. I know it will.”
Catherine Wilson is the Executive Director of the Greene County Historical Society. She also lived through the 1974 tornado.
“I live down in Arrowhead and we saw it coming before it got to be the great big black cloud that you see in all the pictures. We saw it as a grey bubbling kind of cloud.” Wilson said.
She said she tells her story quite a bit. It’s important to remember the past.
“Afterward we saw all the damage and destruction and thought how are we going to come back from this,” Wilson said, “but Xenia has come back from it.”
Today Lee Warren is the Public Relations Coordinator for the City, and he is proud of how far Xenia has come, and the great things they continue to add to the city.
“Today we have rebuilt. We now have the reach center. We have new hotels. We have great places to live, work and play,” Warren said. “Xenia is on the resurgence still, even 45 years later, but that’s what goes on after a devastating, cataclysmic event, like the Xenia Tornado of 1974. Xenia is on the move and we are moving forward.”
Warren also takes time to remember the past. 34 lives were lost on April 3, 1974. It was the deadliest of all 148 tornadoes during the Super Outbreak.
“What Xenia has done as a way to pay homage to those that perished in this catastrophic event, people that lost their lives and people that were injured,” Warren said.
Many people that lived through the Tornado know someone who didn’t, including Warren.
“We have created a memorial inside our new city administration building to sort of tell the story about what happened on that fateful day but at the same time to talk about Xenia’s rebuilding and Xenia’s resurgence to this devastating event,” Warren said.
The memorial is on the second floor by the city council chambers. Warren said it is open to the public to come by anytime during business hours.
“We are a community that has now rebuilt,” Warren said. “It takes a long time to get over an event like this, but we no longer try to live in the past. We pay homage, but these winds of change have moved us to today’s time when we are rebuilding a city that’s a great place to live, work, and play.”