Tornado could mean end of line for nearly wiped-out railroad town

SPENCER, S.D. (AP) — This could be the end of the line for Spencer, founded as a stop on the railroad in 1887.
A tornado nearly wiped the town off the map Saturday, and many of its 320 residents said they aren’t sure if they will rebuild.
“I think if we stay here, there’s going to be too many memories. We need to go where there’s a fresh start,” 45-year-old Pat Stildener said Monday as bulldozers cleared debris.
The storm killed six people and smashed nearly everything in its way, reducing buildings to heaps of splintered timbers. The post office, fire station, library, bank and all four churches were destroyed, as were more than two-thirds of the homes. Only about a dozen houses were left standing.
South Dakota’s storm was a direct blow to a region that was already losing population because of the decline of the family farm in the 1980s. Many small farming towns in the middle of South Dakota have all but vanished.
President Clinton issued a disaster declaration for McCook County, making federal aid available for cleanup, rebuilding and temporary housing. And the South Dakota Community Foundation, which grants money to worthy causes, announced it will give $1,000 to every Spencer resident.
There was no immediate dollar estimate of the damage.
Gov. Bill Janklow met with residents and said that it could take a few years but that the necessities in Spencer, about 40 miles west of Sioux Falls, will be rebuilt.
“Spencer’s going to have what Spencer had before. It’s going to be fine,” Janklow said.
It will happen without the Stildeners.
Three years ago, Stildener moved to Spencer, his mother’s hometown, and bought a cream-colored, two-story house built in 1917, with a wrap-around porch and Virginia pinewood trim. Now, the only thing left is the floor.
“I have walked away with absolutely nothing,” he said.
Two years ago, his parents, Richard and Lorraine Stildener, left Cheyenne, Wyo., where they spent most of their married lives, to be near their son. Their house wasn’t destroyed, but part of the roof is gone.
“If I could get out of here today, I’d leave,” 78-year-old Richard Stildener said.
Another resident, Evelyn Bartholow, is also leaving. She had decided even before the tornado that this would be her last year operating Evelyn’s Antiques.
“Now she doesn’t have a choice,” said her granddaughter, Betty Wootten of Rapid City.
The antique shop was destroyed. Her house, across the street, will have to be torn down.
Bartholow, 86, was injured when the twister blasted boards and other debris through her house. “Evelyn said she tried to fend off the two-by-fours with her cane,” Wootten said.
Bartholow will be recovering for a couple of weeks in a Sioux Falls hospital, then Wootten will take her back to Rapid City to live because there’s nothing left in Spencer.