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MN librarian keeps track of recovery

BY KD MCINTOSH | COMFREY, MN | May 13, 1998

COMFREY, MN (May 13, 1998)-- If you telephone and ask for "Virginia," whoever answers

will chuckle a little as they call her to the phone. No one who knows her

well, calls her Virginia. She's just "Ginni. Ginni Berg."

Her identity is one of the few things that wasn't damaged in the March 29

tornado. When Comfrey was destroyed that day, she lost her new-to-her car,

her home and her job as city librarian.

How did she lose a job? "The city library was (destroyed) when the city

administration building it was in was demolished." Her home is gone, and

the l988 Buick she had owned for less than

three weeks was totalled.

But she wasn't injured. And she's still Ginny. Mother of seven daughters,

ranging in age from 38 to 21, three of which live in Comfrey. Fortunately,

none of them were injured in the tornado.

She also still has her part-time job at St. Paul's Catholic Church, the

only one of four churches in town not ravaged by the twister.

Today, she works more than part-time, though, trying to help out. St.

Paul's is the largest intact building in the area, and quickly became the

command center for the injured community. First, the National Guard took it

over as their base of operations. Then, after they left, residents turned

to it for city council meetings, town planning meetings, prayer circles,

and whatever else comes up between weekly ecumenical services.

To resort to a cliche, Ginni has her finger on the pulse of Comfrey. She

can tell you what happened to whom, what the town is doing now to help

itself recover and what she expects the future of the

community to be.

She will also tell you 3,000 trees in the area were lost in that Sunday's

storm -- "at least." She will even tell you someone planted 100 new trees

just the other day, and that the gesture hardly made a difference to a town

that looks naked without the decades-old shade trees that once cast long

shadows down the streets.

If you ask, she will tell you what "has" made a difference -- to the town,

and to people personally -- is all the help that has come from individuals,

outside organizations and faith-based disaster response agencies.

The phone company gave each resident calling cards to allow them to call

friends and relatives from pay phones or neighbors' homes. The Lamberton

Cafe, about 20 miles or so away, has been feeding volunteers working in the

area. For free. Paid for by Lamberton residents, area churches and the

restaurant itself.

The New Ulm Catholic Diocese Disaster Relief Fund has helped residents with

generous checks. "That helped tremendously, because when you're replacing

everything, every dollar counts."

The United Methodist Committee on Relief has helped coordinate volunteer

teams to help various families rebuild. Lutheran Disaster Response has been

on hand to do everything from feeding volunteers, clothing victims, helping

with planning and rebuilding, to counseling for those needing emotional

relief.

The list of good deeds goes on and on.

Ginni says it's no wonder the residents haven't given into depression, no

wonder they haven't given in at all.

"The Cenex station is up ... there are new buildings going up all around.

Businesses, homes ... we installed a new post mistress in the first or

second week after the tornado.

"The town's slogan is 'We will fight, we will rebild, we will reunite.'

"If you call St. Paul's, you can hear on the answering machine, 'Jesus has

risen, and Comfrey will rise again, too, Amen, Allelujah'."

Ginni points to the library board, having its planned meetings, even though

it is very likely the municipal library will be merged with the school

library when the school is repaired or rebuilt. But the fact meetings are

still held tells it all, she believes.

She also points to the Hoffman Center, a tiny complex housing a dentist's

and doctors' offices as well as a residential treatment facility for

troubled adolescent girls. The headquarters for the treatment facility are

in St. Peter, another town devastated by a tornado that March day; but

administrators didn't choose to pull out of Comfrey when the building was

badly damaged there, Ginni says. The building was repaired, even expanded.

A dozen local people who worked there have not lost their jobs after all.

She sees all these things as clear signs the rebuilding of Comfrey was

meant to be. The losses, as significant as they appear on the surface and

as painful as they are to the people involved, have not won out.

"Our lives are here, most of us were born here, our people are buried

here...why wouldn't we rebuild?"

Posted May 13, 1998


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