Andover Tornado Changed Woman's Life, Career

By: Alicia Myers Email
By: Alicia Myers Email

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Monday, April 25, 2011

The deadly tornado that struck Andover 20 years ago, changed the lives of everyone forever. For one woman, that tornado made her the person she is today.

"To see it in person, it's overwhelming," said Darla Hesse, American Red Cross.

The day was April 26, 1991.

20-years-ago, Hesse was a social worker. She was scheduled to travel to Topeka that day to see a client.

Because of the weather, Hesse and her brother headed to Andover to her mom's house instead.

"We actually saw the tornado. It was just terrifying. The size and proximity of it. We ran to our storm shelter and got in there just in time, and heard this terrible roaring noise," said Hesse.

When the two came back out, debris covered the yard.

"We could see people coming out of their homes, crawling out of their basements. You could smell the natural gas, and just people in shock," said Hesse.

Down the street, an entire mobile home park had been wiped out, killing thirteen people.

"Before that event I had just seen it on tv like everyone else," said Hesse.

In that moment, Hesse knew she needed to help. She offered her services to an American Red Cross shelter the night of the tornado. The next two days, Hesse worked in a morgue identification center.

Little did she know, those few days would change her life forever.

"It was such a life-changing event, that I decided this is what I'm supposed to do with my life," said Hesse.

Hesse volunteered with the Red Cross for the next three years, until a full-time job opened up.

20-years-later, Hesse works with devastation every day, as the manager of disaster response and planning for the Red Cross.

"You have an opportunity to make a small impact in someone's life, who has suffered a tremendous tragedy. There aren't that many jobs that allow you to do that," said Hesse.

For Hesse, it was a job that started out as a simple offer to help, following one of the deadliest tornadoes in Kansas history.

"It made a dramatic impact on my life," said Hesse.

In the past 17 years, Hesse has assisted with numerous families who have lost their homes to fires. She also helped with the devastation left by the 2007 Greensburg tornado.

Hesse said she cannot imagine her life without the opportunity to help others every day.

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