In the Spotlight

News & Features
Nearby Schools Welcome Comfrey Students
By Mark Steil
April 13, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4

Comfrey schools will reopen April 13, two weeks and a day after a tornado swept through the southwest Minnesota community. The tornado heavily damaged the Comfrey elementary school and high school, so students will travel to Sanborn to resume classes. The startup of school is important for both towns.

COMFREY STUDENTS WON'T NEED TO BRING ANY SUPPLIES when they make the 20-mile bus trip to Sanborn. Standing in a third grade classroom, elementary school music teacher Laurie Fredin points out donated items neatly laid out on each desk.

Fredin: They asked us what our needs were and we went ahead and made a list so we have things like crayons, and scissors, and glue, and markers, and a tablet for all the kids, a ruler, and some pencils; those kinds of things.
Area schools and businesses have pitched in to make sure Comfrey students have everything they need to start classes. Windom teachers decorated bulletin boards; a row of paper tulips inscribed with students' first names brightens one classroom. Staff and volunteers salvaged as much material as possible from the Comfrey schools, where the tornado ripped off chunks of roof and collapsed part of the building. Superintendent Bob Meyer says some computer equipment was saved.
Meyer: An elementary lab that had some of the older computers, that was completely demolished. But we saved the high school computer lab. In fact, they've been testing those computers and cleaning them, and that lab will be ready to go.
Students whose homes were destroyed have scattered to living quarters in neighboring towns: Springfield, Sleepy Eye, St. James, Mountain Lake, Butterfield. Comfrey buses will drive to each of those towns, picking up students and taking them to Sanborn. High school senior Lance Junker is looking forward to getting back to school and seeing all his classmates. He's been busy the past two weeks, helping repair damage on his family's farm and elsewhere.
Junker: A lot of cleaning up. I've been working for a contracting crew the last two years, and we've been busy helping people out. Getting roofs patched up and windows, so their house is livable. And we ended up re-shingling our house this last week, and just a lot of cleanup.
The chaos of the tornado left Comfrey with the difficult job of rebuilding the town: much of Main Street is ruined, along with the school and scores of houses. Most of the rebuilding is ahead, but the reopening of school is one step towards normalcy. The startup of classes will also change the host town of Sanborn in ways residents could never have imagined a few weeks ago. Last year the elementary school in Sanborn closed. Most residents figured that was the end of education in their town. It brought an uncomfortable silence: gone were the yells and laughter of school kids playing at recess, music programs, athletic contests. Robin Pape says the announcement that Comfrey students would finish the year in Sanborn energized the community.
Page: The whole town is excited. Just to have our town come to life again, bring business into town, and just see communities working together. And not only that, kids get to meet other kids from other towns just by seeing them around town. It's just a really good feeling to see our school open again.
Pape has led the drive to welcome the Comfrey school to town. She and a team of volunteers cooked a week's worth of meals at the Sanborn American Legion Hall for workers getting the school building ready. Comfrey School District Superintendent Bob Meyer says that, and other help, has been important in getting school back in session. He says it's possible classes will extend past the scheduled late May school year end because of the tornado vacation. But he says even if that happens, one event will not be rescheduled.
Meyer: We are definitely going to plan, though, to keep graduation where it's at, on May 31. We have not decided yet where, but if it's a nice day - who knows, we may have an outdoors graduation.
Meyer says the district plans to rebuild a kindergarten through twelfth grade school in Comfrey. He expects insurance payments and federal disaster funds will pay most of the cost.