Remembering the Blizzard of ’75

If you lived in eastern Nebraska in the 70’s, you will most likely have memories and stories of the Blizzard of ’75 which occurred 40 years ago last Saturday.

The storm rolled in from the southwest with a speed and ferocity that caught weather forecasters, and those who depend on the forecasts, off guard.

The morning commute was in progress and students were arriving at school for classes.  I was a relatively young teacher at Benson High School at that time. I remember standing in the hallway and watching students and faculty members wearing leather jackets and jeans or sweaters and poodle skirts for ’50’s day.

The announcement that school would be closing due to the quickly approaching blizzard arrived before first period began. Some buses turned around before unloading students and headed back. Other buses returned to the building to pick up students who had arrived earlier. Of course the students, and staff, were overjoyed.

By midmorning, the students were all out of the building and staff members were advised to go home immediately.  At that point the roads were not that bad, and I joined a group of teachers at a local watering hole in downtown Benson. Big mistake.

By the time I was heading home to my apartment, the blizzard was in full force and Maple Street was snow packed and crowded with homebound traffic. As I neared the intersection at 90th and Maple, I could see that traffic was at a standstill.  I abandoned my little yellow Vega in a restaurant parking lot and slogged my way like Dr. Zhivago through the blizzard to my apartment at Camelot Village.

Later that afternoon the thought of being cooped up in my efficiency apartment for a day or more was not that appealing, so I strapped on my cross-country skis and headed out to a friend’s apartment on Fort Street nearly 2 miles away.

Whiteout conditions made seeing more than a few yards difficult and snow drifts obliterated roadways and intersections. The trek was foolish, but it was an adventure, and it was fun. While I was 27 at the time, I still felt and acted like a kid. I had independence, income, and few responsibilities.

Three days later on Sunday, the weather was bitter cold, but bright and sunny. The storm was over.  As usual, I could count on my Dad to help me get my car started. That afternoon my brother and I helped dad retrieve his truck, and with the help of friends, we dug out my parent’s drive way. Life was good.

The Paul Harvey, “Rest of the Story,” is that my dad suffered a heart attack that night and died two weeks later. And that’s when I grew up.  I no longer could count on my dad to help me out in a jam, and as oldest son, I took on the responsibility of looking out for my mother and the family home and finances

This is where I add the John Lennon quote: “ Life is what happens to you when you are busy making plans”

Extraordinary events such as the Blizzard of ’75, and our recent June hailstorm from which our city is still recovering makes us pay attention to and respect Mother Nature. It makes us appreciate and cherish home and family. It is also the stuff of memories and of stories.

-Joe Burns

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