Xenia Tornado: 50 Years Later – 3 Greene Co. residents remember loved ones impacted by tornado

XENIA — It’s been a half-century since a tornado killed more than 30 people in Xenia. The twister changed lives and the city’s landscape.

WHIO-TV weatherman Gil Whitney broke into programming to tell Xenia residents to take cover. Some people who live there still don’t like to talk about the deadly tornado. But others told News Center 7′s Gabrielle Enright that what happened on April 3, 1974, is so important they had to share their story.

Janelle Robinson’s 44-year-old father was killed by that tornado in 1974. She said her father, Oscar, was a postal clerk at the Wilberforce post office.

“I loved my daddy,” she said. “He was a kind person, giving and loving. He didn’t play though. Don’t mess up.”

The day before the tornado, Janelle sprained her ankle. “I stayed home on that day, April 3,” she said.

She was the last one, in her family, to see her father alive,

“My father came home from lunch to check on me and see how I was doing and that was the last time I saw him,” she said.

Janelle was 14 at the time. She and her younger siblings took cover at a neighbor’s house. “If Gil Whitney hadn’t come on, I don’t think we’d be here. I truly believe that. We wouldn’t be here,” she said.

The kids were safe, but their father was not. The tornado hit the Wilberforce Post Office.

“People had gone in and tried to dig him out because the wall came down on him, as I understand and he was crushed,” Janelle said. “They were digging trying to get him out, but he was already gone.”

Joe Kennedy with the Kennedy Property Group said, “It was tough for my dad to talk about this.”

Joe’s father, Jim, and his father and grandfather were invested in Xenia long before the 1974 tornado.

“When we got into business, it was the grocery business,” he said. But that business plan changed. The tornado would destroy Kennedy’s Supervalu, the family’s largest grocery store.

Bill Altick was a manager at the grocery store. “I remember there was some lady,” he said. “She was just standing out there and I actually grabbed her, brought her back inside, and actually laid on top of her. When that thing hit, it just sounded like a train, The noise was unbelievable.”

Altick worked for Kennedy’s until the late 80′s and went on to own his own real estate business in Xenia.

Joe Kennedy said, “That empty lot became a grocery store, run out of semi-trucks so people in the area could buy food. Shortly after, we did open a grocery store.” But, their business model changed.

“We manage property. We manage real estate.” Kennedy said.

Joe now runs Kennedy Property Group. He lost his father almost three years ago, but still talks about him and his family’s history with the 1974 tornado.

“The people that went through it aren’t big fans of talking about it,” he said, “I want to talk about it in a way that’s respectful to honor them sticking with it. I think it would have been easy to pack up and leave, but most people that lived and that loved this city, they stayed.”

Fifty years later, Janelle Robinson also thinks it’s important to talk about her father. “I have to keep the memory going. I must keep the legacy and story going,” she said.

Comments on this article