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Books and Movies
'Night of the Twisters' author speaks on anniversary

By Carol Bryant
The Independent

Hearing about the June 3, 1980, Grand Island tornadoes gave author Ivy Ruckman goosebumps.

That's when she knew she had to write "Night of the Twisters" based on the experiences of her cousin, Florence Rozendal of 822 E. Bismark.

Ruckman, a Hastings native who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, spoke about the process of writing the children's book Saturday morning at College Park, then led a writing workshop for students Saturday afternoon. The Central Nebraska Reading Council sponsored her appearance. Ruckman has written 14 published books.

"All of these books but two began with goosebumps," Ruckman said.

Ruckman's idea for the book started on June 4, 1980. She turned on the radio in her car and heard Grand Island, Neb., mentioned. She had recently been in Grand Island.

"I reached over and turned up the volume. The newscast said Grand Island had about been destroyed. They were saying 30 to 35 were dead," Ruckman said.

She tried calling her cousin as soon as she got home but couldn't get through. She didn't know whether Florence had survived until several days later, after a police officer pulled up to Florence's mother's home in Hastings and said she was alive.

Ruckman talked to her cousin 10 days after the tornadoes.

"For over an hour, we talked. My legs were covered with goosebumps," Ruckman said.

Florence Rozendal was sewing a dress at her kitchen table the night of June 3, 1980. Her children kept asking her when they were going to go to the basement because of the bad weather. Her husband, Harley, was standing outside.

They didn't head for their basement until after they heard sucking sounds from their drains.

"She felt as if she had vacuums pulling on both ears," Ruckman said.

Florence ran to a bedroom and grabbed her infant son, Ryan. Rozendals have two other children, Cindy and Mark. The book is dedicated to the children and to Tia, their cat, who disappeared after the tornadoes. Florence got caught in a mobile above Ryan's bed and pulled it away from the ceiling. Harley came inside.

"They all got right into the shower (in the basement), and thereby saved their lives," Ruckman said.

Ruckman tried to get her cousin to write an account of her experiences for Reader's Digest, which paid $1,000 for first-person reports. After that didn't occur, Ruckman decided to write the book because no one had written a children's book about tornadoes.

Ruckman read from an Oct. 13, 1981, letter to her from Florence.

"Just before the tornado hit our house, the wind kind of died down and a small amount of hail fell. The bathroom drains started making a sucking sound just before the tornado hit our house. It sounded as if the furniture was being moved about above us, and then the windows and glass started breaking. Soon some of the sheetrock on the ceiling fell in on Ryan and me. That is when we got into the shower, and then there was a big sucking, vacuum feeling, very intense in my ears and the roof and everything above us was gone," Rozendal wrote.

"The sound of the tornado was much like that of a train, and I did not notice the intensity very much. I know that it was not at all what I expected a tornado to be. I always figured they came in a sudden whoosh and left quickly. This one was slower moving than most, but it just seemed to hover over us what seemed like hours," Rozendal wrote.

Ruckman began researching tornadoes and traveled to Grand Island in May 1982 for background work on the book. The first person she interviewed was Don Davis, a Grand Island meteorologist. Ruckman wanted to talk to Kelly Buck, a Hall County sheriff's deputy who had spotted the first tornado in northwest Grand Island.

"I didn't get to meet him," Ruckman said as she started to cry. "He had died about two months before of a brain tumor that was inoperable."

Ruckman did talk to Buck's sister and got permission to use Buck's badge number in the book. She also interviewed Dodge Elementary School students who had lost their homes because of the tornadoes.

Ruckman talked about the structure of her book. The main character, Dan Hatch, was fictional.

"I didn't want to use a real neighborhood in Grand Island," Ruckman said.

So she created a neighborhood, including Sand Crane Drive and Fonda Way.

Many parts of the book are based on Rozendals' experiences.

Ruckman read from her first rejection letter for the book, dated Nov. 30, 1982. After receiving it, she rewrote parts of the book. Ruckman asked the audience to remember an Isaac Asminov quote, "Writing is rewriting."

After Ruckman's husband died in 1983 in a mountain climbing accident, she relied on income from writing and speaking engagements to support herself.

Ruckman then showed slides concerning the June 1980 tornadoes taken by Grand Island photographer Hal Maggiore. Ruckman has shown the slides during presentations she'd made about the book.

"The book has taken me everywhere," she said. "I didn't have to go back to teaching to support myself."

She once calculated that she was meeting 30,000 children a year because of her presentations about writing. Writing the book identified her as a writer. She received $3,500 as an advance for "Night of the Twisters" and another $1,500 for a paperback version. She said she continues to receive "a small but steady royalty income" from the book.

Ruckman showed slides describing production of a TV version of "Night of the Twisters," filmed in Canada.

She gave a two-hour workshop for 17 students Saturday afternoon. Ruckman offered tips on writing dialogue, then had students write dialogue based on the premise of two children taking makeup tests in a second-story school library on a Friday afternoon and locked in after the librarian left for the weekend. Students then read their work, and Ruckman gave tips.