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Hot Topics Tunnel vision • F4 tornado

Summer 2005 • Volume 11, Issue 3

Adding up the aftermath from an F4 tornado

by Nancy Ridgeway

Ray AshleyBuildings were flattened, cars were twisted into gnarled caricatures of what they had once been, debris was strewn for miles around, but not even one person was seriously injured as a result of a July 13, 2004 tornado that ripped through the small farming community of Roanoke, about 20 miles northeast of Peoria. The devastation with no casualties made national headlines, and the precautionary measures taken by the owner of a manufacturing plant located in the F4 tornado’s path has caught the attention of many other company leaders.

Parsons Manufacturing, a plant employing 150 people just outside town, was demolished during the tornado’s fury, but thanks to the foresight of owner Bob Parsons, employees working at the plant at the time were safely clustered in storm shelters. National Weather Service representatives estimated that if the company hadn’t had the reinforced storm shelters, casualties could have been as high as 70 percent.

Tornado aftermathParsons had witnessed a tornado 35 years ago when it passed by his plant. From then on, whenever he added a building, he included a reinforced storm shelter. In addition, storm drills were held on a regular basis for employees.

Not only were employees protected by the storm shelters, but they also continued to receive wages and benefits. Half of the employees remained at the Roanoke plant, where they helped with the rebuilding project, while half worked at an industrial park area in Peoria where they continued manufacturing parts.

Rebuilding continues as the once-demolished plant gradually begins production again, thanks in a large part to Ray Ashley ‘67, the company’s chief financial officer. Ashley has been coordinating with insurance agents, adjustors, contractors, planners, manufacturers, and others to assure that the new facility will be as efficient, state-of-the-art, safe, and cost-effective as possible. He expects the company will be back to full production in September.

He comments, “The number and size of the financial decisions have been enormous, and they had to be made quickly, too.”

Parsons signAshley, who was on vacation with his wife Cheryl Hastings Ashley ‘82 when the tornado hit, explains that the 280,000-square-foot facilty is being rebuilt on the same footprint as the original three buildings. Production has been streamlined this time since all three buildings are being constructed at once. All offices are clustered together, and production facilities were re-engineered for more efficient work flow.He comments, “The work flow is much better than we’ve ever had before...We have a new robotic paint line that is state-of-the-art. The whole facility will be world class once it’s done.”

“We’ve always had good morale here, but now everybody is bonded together. We’ve been through an ordeal together. Everyone has put in extra effort.”


Watch a video, created by Jeremy Hodel and Josh Sauder, showing a tornado that tore through the Roanoke, Illinois. The upcoming summer issue of Hilltopics will include a story about Parson’s Manufacturing, whose employees remained safe in storm shelters when the tornado passed through. Go>