On November 17, 2013, an EF4 tornado ripped through Washington, Illinois. It took 100s homes with it, including retirees Bob and Allison Montgomery’s family farm.
It has taken the pair years to clean up, rebuild, and move on from that day. It was not just buildings that the storm tore apart. It was two 60- year-old red oak trees planted by Bob’s father adjacent to the family home. Allison said Bob’s family lost two multi-generational farms that day.
“The family lost all its history in two farms, and so my feeling was to salvage and save what we could find, which included the trunks of the two oak trees,” said Allison. “The storm had twisted and ripped off the limbs, but the trunks of the trees remained.”
Bob and his friend milled the two red oaks and took advice from a company in Pennsylvania about drying and preserving the beautiful slabs for future use.
Sangamon Reclaimed Founder and President, Brian Frieze, remembers November 17, 2013, just as vividly as the Montgomerys. While assigned as a firefighter for the 182d Airlift Wing, Peoria, Illinois he was at the scene of a structure fire at the General Wayne A. Downing International Airport in Peoria, Illinois the day of the tornado. “As my team began to clear the scene, alerts came in of a tornado on the ground in the immediate area. Minutes later we were notified of the destruction caused in nearby Washington, Illinois,” said Brian.
Brian led a team of Illinois Air National Guard firefighters into Washington, Illinois to perform Urban Search and Rescue Operations (USAR). He and his team searched dozens of homes for victims in the epicenter of the destruction.
Years later, Bob saw an article featuring Sangamon Reclaimed in Illinois Farm Bureau Partners magazine and contacted us to see if we could build furniture from the red oaks that once stood on the Montgomery’s family farm.
“We chose Sangamon Reclaimed because Brian and his team of craftsmen understood we wanted furniture that embraced the knots, twists, and blemishes of trees that had withstood a major storm,” said Bob. “We had lost everything, so we wanted to salvage something from the wreck the storm left behind, and to have a dining room table that all the family could sit around is just what we had in mind.”
The dining room table is the primary focus, but there is plenty of wood to make other pieces, so we are also making benches, coat racks, a headboard for the Montgomery’s master bedroom, and a couple of small tables.
The Mongomerys chose a natural finish. “We are very much into the furniture looking like our tree. We are not trying to match these pieces with our existing furniture,” said Allison.
Receiving the table and other items Sangamon Reclaimed has crafted will be an emotional experience for the pair. “I think it’s not as much excitement as it is emotion,” said Allison. ‘It will be emotional when everything is in the house, and we sit down at the dining room table for the first time,” said Bob.