Kentucky governor Andy Beshear visits with members of the Knights of Columbus Blessed Trinity Council 15181 while touring newly-rebuilt homes in Deerfield Drive in Princeton. The Knights were one of the local partners helping meet the needs of tornado survivors. COURTESY OF STACEY MENSER
‘I’m going in after her’
Neighbors detail post-tornado rescue, against background of rebuilt homes
BY STACEY MENSER, SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Deerfield Drive is a quiet cul-de-sac in Caldwell County where retirees happily share the road with youngsters on bicycles. It’s a place where neighbors walk across fenceless yards to share garden vegetables and holiday greeting cards.
On the night of Dec. 10, 2021, the residents of Deerfield Drive shared a life-altering experience when the quad-state tornado ripped through their community, destroying or damaging virtually every home on the street.
“Every house around the cul-de-sac was totally destroyed,” said Susan Campbell, who has lived on Deerfield Drive for 44 years.
Susan and her husband, Joseph “Joe” Campbell Sr., bought their house in 1979. It was at the end of the street and was still under construction.
“So we finished it,” she said.
The home saw the Campbells’ two sons grow into men with families of their own. It saw Susan and Joe transition into the role of grandparents watching a new generation ride bicycles around the cul-de-sac.
Joe passed away in 2014 at the age of 69. His next-door neighbors, Frankie Brown and Ed Koscho, served as pallbearers.
The voice of Frankie was the first sound Susan heard after the tornado passed.
“I had taken a major hit to the head. I was trapped in there alone. The house just came down around me,” said Susan. “I didn’t know how bad I was hurt or how I was going to get out.”
“Then I heard Frankie’s voice,” she said. “He was yelling, ‘I know she’s in there. I’m going in after her.’”
Susan said neighbors – some she’d known for years and some she was meeting for the first time – surrounded her.
“Austin Coleman found me a pair of shoes,” said Campbell. “The McDaniels gave me a sweatshirt to put on. Joe Bartolotti came and helped. So many people surrounded me and took care of me.”
While the houses were destroyed, the people of Deerfield Drive all survived that night.
Susan was the first homeowner on the street to rebuild. She moved into her new home in July 2022.
While she was grateful to be settled under a new roof, she realized Deerfield Drive was not the same.
“Being home didn’t really feel like being home because my neighbors weren’t here around me,” she said.
As the year anniversary of the tornado approached, Susan’s neighbors neared completion on their own rebuilds.
“Ed and Diane (Koscho) moved in sometime in November before Thanksgiving, and the Browns were next around Christmastime, and then the Rameys,” said Campbell. “We’re starting to all get back home.”
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro hosted a celebration on Deerfield Drive April 17 and invited Kentucky governor Andy Beshear to attend and meet some of the local and state partners who have played a role in rebuilding not just homes, but communities like Deerfield Drive across western Kentucky.
Susan Montalvo-Gesser, director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro, opened the ceremony and welcomed speakers and guests from the Knight of Columbus Blessed Trinity Council, Caldwell County Long Term Recovery Group, American Red Cross, CrossRoads Missions, and HR Ministries, as well as Princeton Mayor Brock Thomas and the governor.
Beshear lauded the work of Catholic Charities in bringing partner agencies together to meet the needs of tornado survivors. He then toured the neighbors’ rebuilt homes, saying he is excited to see progress continuing in Caldwell County.
Stacey Menser is a case manager with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Owensboro.