Spirit of McGregor’s people on full display

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The clock said 6:18. My windshield wipers beat furiously, no match for the sheets of rain blowing sideways against my car as I drove across the Marquette/Joliet Bridge, toward Iowa, last Wednesday, July 19. Everything around me was white, my only bearings the taillights of the truck in front of me and my memory of the road, having driven over it nearly daily for the past four years.

The rain seemed to let up as I crossed into Iowa. Fearing rocks on Highway 76, between Marquette and McGregor, I chose to drive around, estimating I had just enough time to make  the council meeting in McGregor, set to begin at 6:30. As I drove through Marquette and up the hill, my nerves began to calm. I’d never encountered rain like that before, but I’d made it through; I was almost to my destination.

Fifteen minutes before, I’d received an emergency alert on my cell phone indicating a tornado warning. Already on my way to McGregor from my home outside Prairie du Chien, I ignored the warning, blithely thinking, “It’ll never happen.” Now, as I turned onto Klein Brewery Road, I realized how wrong I’d been.

I saw pieces of metal first, then downed trees. I skirted around the first few easily enough, but as I got closer and closer to McGregor, the task grew more difficult. The trees became more numerous, covering greater expanses of road. By now, I was scared, quietly chanting “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” In my panicked desire to reach my destination, I drove over debris my Chevy Malibu should have never traversed.

Then, I saw McGregor. The piles of tree limbs in Cannon Park, one of city hall’s columns lying across the hood of a car, INKspiration Tattoo and the Main Street Mall decimated, the pharmacy’s mortar and pestle hanging precariously off the building: it was all too much. I started to cry, half overwhelmed and surprised by what I’d seen in the last 10 minutes, half fearful for my family living across the river, possibly in the storm’s path.

As I parked my car, people began emerging from their homes and buildings, taking in the destruction around them. There were looks of shock, looks of grief. I saw a lot of that as I walked, for over two hours, through McGregor—from the post office to Cannon Park, then back down the street to the riverfront—snapping photos and hearing people’s stories.

But I saw a lot more than that. I saw people who went door-to-door, asking how their fellow citizens were. I saw people jump to action, immediately working to clear the streets of debris. I saw people embrace others, including myself, urging them to be strong. I heard people say, “McGregor will get through this.”

In the days since the tornado, I’ve seen just how true that statement was. From the city workers and volunteers who cleaned up the town to the business owners who got up and running in just a few days, McGregor’s will to recover was on full display.

That’s not saying no one is sad, or reflective, especially at the loss of the historical buildings. I’ve certainly felt that way a time or two in the past week. But it’s not stopping the community from moving forward.

Yes, those buildings are important, but McGregor’s spirit isn’t in the buildings; it’s in the people who live here, who won’t ever let that history die.

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