How One Community Came Together After 4 Tornadoes Ripped Through Their Town

Friendly neighbors are alive and well in this Midwest mecca.

tornado cleanupReminisce/The Times, Ottawa, Tom Sistak
Work trucks hauled debris as volunteers swept up the 2017 tornado damage

Just an hour from Chicago and located in the heart of Starved Rock Country, Ottawa is one of Illinois’ best places to get away, stay and play.

Starved Rock Country boasts some of the nicest state parks, including historical Starved Rock State Park, and activities year-round, such as an annual wine and jazz festival. The area is also a haven for fantastic dining, boating, fishing and hiking, river clubs, gorgeous blooms, art and unique shopping opportunities. Plus, Ottawa was the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Neighbors here are truly neighborly, and loyalty to the community is ever-present. Mayberry still exists, and you can find it here.

volunteers clean up after tornadoReminisce/The Times, Ottawa, Tom Sistak
In 2017, after four tornadoes hit, local electricians cleared a 190-year-old oak tree.

The true test of Ottawa’s mettle came in February 2017 when four tornadoes, baseball-size hail, and high winds damaged the town, nearby Naplate and the surrounding area. That particular Tuesday afternoon, a number of community members were in the basement of the historic Episcopal Church decorating and preparing food for the annual Fat Tuesday celebration and fundraiser that evening.

Without warning, the lights flickered, sirens blared and the room went dark. By the time the all-clear sounded and we discovered what had just occurred, the kitchen workers had packed up all the food and delivered it to the fire station. Churches opened their doors, four women organized a fundraiser for victims, and volunteers came from all over town. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, Scouts, YMCA, service clubs, hairdressers, truck drivers, farmers with chainsaws, and restaurant and grocery store owners gave what they could, expecting nothing in return. Don’t miss these other heartwarming stories of good deeds from neighbors.

THERAPY DOGReminisce/The Times, Ottawa, Tom Sistak
Cathy Mooney hugs comfort dog Ladel as handler Deb Kinne greets people after the storm.

A local businessman quietly and anonymously slipped cash to one of the victims. A landlord invited a displaced family to stay at one of his vacant properties.

And the Episcopal fundraiser? All proceeds went to those affected by the tornadoes.

Do you live in a place where strangers greet you on the street and neighbors help each other out? If you do, Reader’s Digest wants to hear about it. 

The heartwarming story of Ottawa, Illinois, population 18,000, was submitted by Angela Accomando and Valery Calvetti as part of their entry in the 2017 Nicest Place in America contest.

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Originally Published in Reminisce