Kankakee County, IL – History’s Fury Revisited: 1963 Olivet Nazarene University Tornado

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Bourbonnais, IL – Wednesday marks the 61st anniversary of the fateful day when a catastrophic F4 tornado carved a path through Kankakee County, Illinois, hitting Olivet Nazarene University hard and leaving an indelible mark on the community. This historic tornado arose near Essex on April 17, 1963, tearing through Salina Township and reaching its zenith of destruction upon its arrival in Bourbonnais.

The storm claimed the life of 24-year-old Sandra Rivard, who was found with her three-month-old daughter Linda Kay in her arms amidst the rubble of what once was their home. The Olivet Nazarene College, now University, suffered severe damage, with the gymnasium, administration building, and campus trailers severely affected. The surrounding community bore the brunt as well, with 50 individuals injured and 10 hospitalized, including the miraculously surviving Linda Kay Rivard.

The tornado’s swath extended 57.3 miles, with its width peaking at 130 yards, neared F5 intensity, as homes were completely obliterated. As we reflect on this date, it’s not just about the Olivet Nazarene tornado but also about remembering a series of twisters that have marked April as a month of weather-inflicted sorrow for Kankakee County.

A Twisted History in Kankakee County:

  1. April 21, 1912 – A strong tornado hits Kankakee County, causing extensive damage and loss of life.
  2. April 19, 1927 – A tornado devastates Aroma Park and areas around Chebanse.
  3. April 24, 1914 – A significant tornado causes destruction in Clifton, crushing a person and causing damage across Iroquois and Kankakee County.
  4. April 17, 1963 – An F4 tornado severely damages Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, resulting in one fatality.
  5. April 21, 1964 – Buildings on Wilcox, Smith, and Wilkey farms in Rockville Township are damaged by a tornado.
  6. April 11, 1965 – As part of a massive Palm Sunday tornado outbreak, Kankakee County experiences damage.
  7. April 24, 1968 – A tornado overturns trailers and causes damage near Momence.
  8. April 20, 1974 – Damage is inflicted upon Momence, especially impacting Gilbert Plastics.
  9. April 2, 1982 – A tornado hits Irwin, destroying St. James Catholic Church among other damage.

Today, as residents of Kankakee County solemnly remember the 1963 Olivet Nazarene tornado, they also recall the resilience demonstrated in the wake of each of these tragic April twisters. 

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