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TCU Magazine "Class Notes"

Weathering heights

A handful of Frogs braved the first deadly tornado to strike downtown Fort Worth in 150 years.

By Nancy Bartosek

In the aftermath. When city officials allowed lawyer Jack Larson '86 back into his BankOne Tower office, he discovered the tornado had tucked a shard of glass neatly inside his briefcase.

The city sirens began to blast at 6:15 on that muggy March evening, but Carol Glover '88, a designer with Witherspoon & Associates, didn't hear them.

Seven minutes later, a tornado that would kill four people touched down less than a mile from her office.

She and a colleague were on the third floor when a co-worker called to warn them. After checking a Web report, they headed to the stairwell. As they opened the door, the windows exploded.

Crouched in a small basement storage room, the two felt the foundation shake, then an eerie silence.

Eventually they clambered up the dark steps and stood gaping at what had been their offices.

"The windows and outside walls were gone," Glover said. "The roof was held up by a drafting table.

Cubicles and office furniture were scrambled beyond recognition, like a giant whisk had whipped the room into a froth.

The two stared out of the building in shock at the now-skeletal Calvary Cathedral tower and heavily damaged Cash America building to the west.

"First it was terrifying, then there was this horrible sinking feeling when I saw how much destruction had taken place," Glover said a week later. "If our friend hadn't called, we would have been in that room."

Judy Eagle '81 was at the Seventh Street Barbershop with son Patton, 10, about 5:30 that day. They were supposed to have a baseball game in an hour but when she heard the weather reports, Eagle picked up Patton's friend and headed to her Monticello home.

The lights went out and their ears started popping when they entered the house. The three huddled in an inner bath as windows blew out and falling trees crushed the back half of the house. The wind even bent the deadbolt on the front door, forcing it open.

While Eagle watched the rain pour into the house, her husband Jim was riding out the storm in the stairwell of the Bank One building where he works. She discovered later that the barbershop they just left had been reduced to rubble.

John Grace '72, coach of his son's Little League team, finally canceled that evening's game about 6 p.m. When the storm hit, he was at home in Arlington Heights, watching the reports on the news.

Although Grace is the marketing/leasing director of the Bank One building and has offices there, he wasn't allowed downtown until the next day.

"When I saw it for the first time, I was just sick to my stomach," he said. "There was everyone's livelihood scattered all over the place. I could not believe no one in the building got killed."

Fred Oberkircher, director of TCU's Center for Lighting Education, was at a meeting in the Modern Art Museum's storefront gallery downtown when the group noticed the rain outside swirling in an unusual pattern.

Seconds later the windows on the corner location blew in with a boom. The small interior kitchen was suddenly wall to wall people as the 45 attendees rushed in together. Remarkably, no one was hurt.

"Later, when I was drying off my hair at home, that's when I got cut," Oberkircher said. "There were little glass shards all through my hair."

Jack Larson '86 and his law associates were working late in their new Bank One office suite, following a week of moving into the space from another floor. They were still in the conference room when they saw the darkness headed their way. They stood watching curiously until one of them noted with quiet alarm that there was "stuff" in the clouds.

Seconds later they were racing down 27 flights of stairs.

"As we passed each floor, there was paper and debris and a terrific wind blowing in under the doors," he said.

When it stopped, they trudged back up 27 calve-killing flights to find the windows gone and the suite torn to shreds. Later than night, Larson drove home to his Firestone Apartment home, where all the windows were blown out.

Several days later, from a temporary office provided by StuartBacon ad firm owner Jim Stuart '71, Larson summed up what many felt after enduring the storm first-hand.

"I used to think there was a limit to what I could handle," he said. "Now I think I can deal with anything."