Teri and Steve Kleopfer: Past experiences helped them through the grieving process. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Teri and Steve Kleopfer: Past experiences helped them through the grieving process. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Steve Kleopfer was sitting in his living room of his home at Jackson Road and State Road 62 watching a weather report on March 2, 2012, when it showed a storm front that was coming into Jefferson County. He could tell from the map that the severe storm was getting closer to his home, so he went to his garage and looked to the west, the direction the storm was coming from.

"It was right over the tree line. It was just right there and you could tell by looking at it that it was no ordinary tornado," he said. "There wasn't really a defined funnel. It was just a huge, black, boiling cloud with stuff flying out of it."

In the distance, he saw a small house get leveled by the EF-3 tornado that swept through the county that day.

"It just destroyed that house. Just ground it up. There wasn't a piece of that house that you could have picked up and carried," he said.

He got into his car and left his home, which was later destroyed by the tornado.

Steve's wife, Teri, was driving a bus for Southwestern schools that day and was also out of the house.

Teri lived across the street from Terry and Nancy Jackson, her uncle and aunt who were two of the Jefferson County residents who died in the tornado.

Teri helped her uncle nearly every day with work, and he would usually come over to the Kleopfer house every day, Steve said.

"With what happened to her uncle and them, it was like losing one of your legs," he said.

The Kleopfers were able to draw from a past experience to help them through their grieving. In 2001, doctors diagnosed Steve with lung cancer. He had been given less than a 5 percent chance of being alive in five years.

The luck he's had in making it through a cancer fight, and the fact that he and his wife were not home when the tornado hit, have helped the couple keep a positive outlook.

"When you find out you have lung cancer, you don't worry about all the money you didn't make," Steve said. "You don't worry about all the things you didn't do. You worry about your wife and your kids and your grandchildren. When I got through (the tornado) and saw what happened to people and the fact that I was still alive. I could have been just as dead as they were. If I'd have stayed here it would have got me."

Keeping that in mind, the Kleopfers said that everything else seemed trivial. Most of their home was destroyed. The tornado lifted the home off the foundation and tossed it 100 yards into a ditch in their backyard.

"It just kind of put it in perspective," Steve said. "It could have been a whole lot worse. I guess it sounds silly, but (losing our home) was more aggravating than anything else. Kind of like a toothache, you know? Just a pain in the butt."

Support from family and friends came immediately. Steve's uncle came that night to watch the property. Steve's and Teri's employers gave them time off and donations. Even their daughter's boss came to help.

"We had probably 150 people here on Saturday that were trying to pack stuff out of the house and save it for us and salvage our furniture," Teri said. "We were able to save a lot. I would say the community really supported us."

The Red Cross and the Salvation Army made sure they had enough food and water for a week after the storm. Local farmers came and cleared off the farmland behind the house and set new rows. A group of Amish men came to take down the remains of the house and burn it.

Teri said there were also countless church and civic groups that came and donated time or money.

"The faith-based groups really came through. They're the ones that came out to get dirty and get sweaty cleaning up the mess," he said.

The couple moved into a friend's mother's house that had been left vacant after she died. Both returned to work and they eventually began to think about rebuilding their home.

The floor plan and square footage is basically the same, Steve said. However, they did add a storm shelter beneath their new home.

The Kleopfer's moved back on Nov. 2, eight months after the storm hit.

"Blown out on March 2 and moved back in on Nov. 2. It just kind of worked like that," Steve said.