60 Years Later: How Kankakee County, Olivet Nazarene Rebuilt After a F4 Tornado


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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Monday marks the 60th  anniversary of an F4 tornado wrecking havoc in Kankakee County and neighboring Indiana. 

At the time, the funnel cloud developed near Essex and ripped up a lot of topsoil as it headed west through Salina Township before crossing the river. It was at full fury when it reached Bourbonnais, where it devastated the Olivet Nazarene University (College) and claimed the life of 24-year-old Sandra Rivard.

Rivard was holding her three-month-old daughter Linda Kay when the tornado hit her Bourbonnais home. A neighbor, Gerit Osenga, found the baby cradled in her mother’s arms. Everything inside the Rivard’s home that day, including furniture and appliances, was blown hundreds of feet away, except for an untouched stack of pillows in a corner of the home. 

At Olivet, most of the property damage was done to the gym, the Burke administration building, and residential trailers. The tornado also damaged several Bourbonnais homes and did damage in Exline and Momence.

In total, 50 people were injured, and ten were hospitalized, including Linda Kay Rivard, who survived. West of Kankakee, the tornado destroyed buildings on the farms of Luther Foltz, Clarence Sauberli, and John Dummer. The path length was 57.3 miles, with a width of 130 yards.

According to Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes, “In Illinois, damage was near-F5 as several houses literally vanished.” The SPC lists the max width at 130 yards. Although the tornado did not take many lives, it caused significant damage and injuries.

April marks several anniversaries of other tornadoes that have struck the area, including one that hit Irwin in 1982, destroying St. James Catholic Church. A tornado that was responsible for taking three lives in Grant Park in 1948, and again in 1954, killing Anna Barclay on a farm in Sumner Township.

Kankakee County residents remember these tragic events, the destruction that they caused, and the lives that they claimed. Today, they reflect on the 60th anniversary of the Olivet tornado, grateful for the rebuilding and recovery that followed in the years since.


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