The Town That Wouldn't Die


In the summer of 1950, three people from Life Magazine spent a number of days in Bradgate taking numerous pictures and interviewing almost everyone.  Residents were anxious to see the article but-when the August 1950 issue appeared all were disappointed.  Bradgate was pictured as a dying town.  This has been a sore spot for all these years and in 1976 the slogan "The town that wouldn't die" was chosen. 


In May of 2004, a tornado severely damaged the town.  The question in some minds, "Was this the end of Bradgate?"  Town residences vowed to rebuild and with the support of the Humboldt County community, the prophetic town slogan continues to hold true.   


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The memory of the evening of May 21, 2004 will live forever in the minds of those living in Bradgate, Iowa that night.  It was history in the making.

The National Weather Service reported that a tornado struck near Rolfe at 6:10 p.m. and hit Bradgate at 6:23 p.m.  In a matter of seconds the tornado ripped through the town, severely damaging 30 of the 42 homes.  The only building in town that did not receive damage was the new Fire Station.  Fifteen people sustained minor injuries for from flying debris.

Injuries might have been worse, if it had not been for the warning generated by Humboldt County Sheriff Dean Kruger.  Sheriff Kruger saw the approaching tornado, and contacted the dispatcher at the LEC to set off the siren on top of the Bradgate Fire Station; just two minutes before the tornado bore down on the town from the west.

Sheriff Kruger was heading home from work when the dispatcher told him that there was a report of a funnel cloud near Ottosen.  The Sheriff went to check it out.  Near the old Satern Service Station, located on the northwest edge of Bradgate on County Road P-19, "I saw a couple of funnel clouds, then a big wall cloud coming."  At this point he had the dispatcher sound the siren, and then he tried to get himself out of danger.  As he was driving north, rocks and wood began hitting his patrol car, breaking out the windows.  Sheriff Kruger pulled off the highway.  Exiting his vehicle, he was struck in the leg by a flying two by four, severely bruising it.  He made it to the ditch, and as the tornado roared overhead, he said, "it sounded like a train."  Once it was safe to return to his patrol car, he contacted the dispatcher to say that Bradgate had been hit by a tornado.

Nancy Brandhoij’s family were eating dinner in the kitchen, when the sound of the siren sent them rushing to the basement.  Afterwards, emerging from the basement, they realized how close they had come to being a causality of the tornado.  The roof of their home was gone, and the bricks from their fireplace covered the kitchen.

Bradgate firefighter Dennis Behnkendorf said, "I saw the Brandhoij Construction building fly by, so all I could do is lay down on the floorboard of the truck."

Humboldt Co. Deputy Sheriff, Mike Taylor, was also caught in the tornado and his vehicle received the same damage as Sheriff Kruger's, but he escaped injury.

Deputy Vorland left Humboldt for Bradgate, and on his way there encountered hail ranging in size from marbles to golf ball size.   

Support and help started almost immediately after the report that the tornado had hit Bradgate.  Firefighters arrived Friday night from as far away as Estherville, and Otho.

It was difficult to get to Bradgate, as power lines, trees, and debris covered the roads, and it was hailing and raining.

Bradgate Mayor Martin Brown said " I've lived here all of my life.  To come over the hill and see the whole place leveled....that's tough."

The temporary clean up stopped about 11 p.m. Friday night.  Then a massive clean up effort began Saturday.  Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack declared Humboldt County a disaster area.  The Governor arrived Saturday to visit Bradgate residents, and the numerous volunteers.

The tornado that started near Rolfe continued on a 16 mile journey, damaging farm houses, trees, and power lines along the way.  MidAmerican Energy power lines and poles, from Rutland north to the Bradgate blacktop, were toppled over the roadway.  Experts said the damage led them to believe the tornado was an F-1 or F-2 in strength, with winds up to 150 miles per hour.

In the true spirit of fellowship, people came from all over the county to help with the clean up.  Over 1,000 people showed up Saturday to help. Those represented were mayors of neighboring towns, firemen, Boy Scouts, employees of local government, Civil Air Patrol, family members and friends.




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This site was last updated 05/04/13