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Co-op Members Weather the Storm

According to American politician and author Newt Gingrich, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

Northfork Electric member Lake Newcomb and his family had already finished the hard work. They had spent the last several decades growing a successful cattle and quarter horse operation just south of Merritt. Barns were raised, pens were constructed, breeding and training programs were established, and a family home was built. Sadly, on May 16, 2017, a tornado would devastate the Newcomb’s progress leaving behind the remains of their efforts. 

On that memorable Tuesday afternoon, Newcomb and his wife, Ladonna, were headed home from a cattle sale in Oklahoma City when they began to hear radio reports of a severe storm system west of Erick. The couple grew more and more anxious as the forecasts warned of damaging winds, grapefruit sized hail, and possible tornadoes. “We were starting to worry, and we knew that we needed to get the cattle off the road and unloaded before the storm hit,” said Newcomb.

When the couple arrived home, Lake and Ladonna scrambled to unpack the loaded trailer of cow and calf pairs into the holding pen. Unable to see in the rain wrapped tornado, the Newcombs were unaware of the danger that surrounded them. “Honestly, I thought it was just hailing,” said Newcomb. “At that moment, I had no idea that we were being hit by a tornado.”

After the storm had passed, the family emerged from shelter to find an overwhelming display. The home where they raised their children and had shared so many memories together was gone. “The garage, utility room, and kitchen were nonexistent,” said Newcomb. Further, the storm had leveled the hay and cattle barns, a shop, and several other large steel buildings. “The tornado basically took them and set them out in the pasture,” said Newcomb.  

The storm had also been unforgiving on the family’s prized quarter horses. Several members of the herd had been injured by flying debris. Regretfully, one mare had to be put down due to a broken leg. Newcomb’s vet was on the scene almost immediately. “The vet came as soon as he got out of his storm shelter,” said Newcomb. “He sewed up on horses until dark, and then he came back the next morning and started again.”

Newcomb admits that one of the hardest moments after the storm was realizing that he couldn’t rush to help his son, Cooper, who’s sheep farm had also been hit by the tornado nine miles away. “Roughly 200 sheep were running lose up and down the road. It was literally 48 hours until we were able to even see his place after the tornado,” said Newcomb. “There was just too much to do here at our place.” Thankfully, the Newcombs weren’t tasked with picking up the pieces alone.

Friends, family, neighbors, and volunteer groups quickly donated their time and resources to the rebuilding efforts. “It wasn’t 30 minutes after the tornado hit that there were tons of people out here helping to clean up,” said Newcomb. The love and generosity shown to Lake and his family has given them strength and a new perspective. “We have helped people out before, but now since we have been on the receiving end, our view is a little different,” said Newcomb.

Ten weeks have passed since the tornado left its mark on the Newcomb Ranch, and there is still hard work to be done. “It takes a lot of perseverance. The first couple of weeks the adrenaline will get you through, but then it gets tiring,” said Newcomb. “When you pick up for days and days and it’s still a mess, it gets trying.”

Even though the Newcombs have a difficult road ahead, they’re leaning on each other and looking for the break in the clouds. “One of the best days we’ve had since the tornado was when they did the dirt work and poured the footings for our new home,” said Newcomb. “You could see some progress, and everything was beginning to come together.”                                      

By Kari Payne 

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