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Twenty Years
Story of twisters lives on in book

Author to speak on anniversary

By Carol Bryant
The Independent

The author who familiarized more than 300,000 readers with Grand Island's June 3, 1980, tornadoes will speak Saturday at College Park.

Ivy Ruckman, a Hastings native and 1953 Hastings College graduate who lives in Salt Lake City, will talk about "Night of the Twisters" from 9 to 11:30 a.m. She'll then meet with no more than 25 students from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday to focus on their writing interests. The cost per family for the morning session or the afternoon session is $4.

"I think of that whole south central part of the state as home," Ruckman said Tuesday. "It's hard to believe that much time has passed. I'm really excited to be coming back."

The Central Nebraska Reading Council is sponsoring Ruckman's visit. She will also sign books from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Hastings Books, Music and Video at the Grand Island Mall. "Night of the Twisters" won Nebraska's Golden Sower Award in 1986.

Ruckman's 1984 book is based on the experiences of her cousin, Florence Rozendal of 822 E. Bismark Road. The Rozendals' home was destroyed during the 1980 tornadoes. Ruckman said she'll be staying at her cousin's home Saturday night.

"Up until 'Night of the Twisters,' no one had written a children's book exclusively about a tornado," Ruckman said. "You could write 10 books on the Grand Island disaster, on every level."

The Platte River, Mormon Island State Recreation Area, Fonner Park, The Grand Island Independent, Westside Lanes, Meves Bowl, St. Paul, Dannebrog, Phillips, Capital Heights, Kuester's Lake, Dodge School and Dreisbach's are bits of Central Nebraska mentioned in the book. "Night of the Twisters" tells about a boy's experiences during the tornadoes.

Ruckman spoke at Dodge Elementary School, then invited a group of students who had lost their homes to Rozendal's house as part of her research for "Night of the Twisters." Ruckman taped her interview with the students.

"On the tape, their voices are quaking with emotion," she said.

Two men wrote a screenplay based on "Night of the Twisters," Ruckman said. The television movie first aired in 1996.

"I had a very hard time getting them to use the (book's) title," Ruckman said about the movie. "I don't think they realized how many people had read it."

Because The Independent is often contacted for additional information after students have read Ruckman's book, the newspaper created a location on its Web site called "The Real Night of the Twisters." It's at

Ruckman's Saturday afternoon session is almost full, said Glenda Frasier of 1038 N. Sheridan, a member of the Central Nebraska Reading Council. People can register at the door Saturday or call Frasier at 384-8143.

"A year ago, when we planned our programs, we thought about the 20th anniversary of the tornadoes. We thought it was an ideal way to celebrate that anniversary and decided to contact her," Frasier said. "She's really excited about coming and meeting with children who are interested in writing. Because she's a native of the area, that makes it special."

A twister mural created by Gates Elementary School students a year ago and twister tales written by 56 children will be displayed Saturday at College Park, Frasier said.

Ruckman, 69, is a Hastings High School graduate and majored in English at Hastings College. She taught English at high schools in Wyoming and Salt Lake City for 10 years and has lived in Salt Lake City since 1957.

Fourteen of Ruckman's books have been published, and she's also written a screenplay adapted from one of her books, "No Way Out," the tale of people caught in a Utah flash flood.

Ruckman recently completed a historical novel about Blue Hill, "In Care of Cassie Tucker."

"The book interested me because of the turn of the century. I had some good family stories that I hadn't used and I wanted to tell," she said. "There's some autobiographical information in that book that comes from my grandparents on both sides."

Rozendal said "Night of the Twisters" is her family's "biggest claim to fame so far. They have enjoyed it." She and her husband, Harley, have three children -- Cindy, 30; Mark, 26; and Ryan, 20. The 153-page book is dedicated to the children.

"They've thought it was pretty fun that we were featured in a book," she said.

Rozendal said her mother and Ruckman's mother were sisters.

"Nebraska is her home," Rozendal said. "She does keep it close to her heart. In most of her books, characters are based on our family."

For instance, Florence and Harley are the names of an elderly farm couple in "In Care of Cassie Tucker."

"She usually puts animals in her stories, because she has a great love for animals," Rozendal said.

Rozendal said the TV version of "Night of the Twisters" was not as good as the book.

"You have to read books to enjoy a story," she said.