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Hundreds of high school basketball fans had to seek shelter when they were caught in a fierce spring blizzard in 1966.
Hundreds of high school basketball fans had to seek shelter when they were caught in a fierce spring blizzard in 1966.

Farmhouse Refuge

The 1966 blizzard that froze eastern South Dakota is still ranked as one of the top 100 storms of the century. This storm that took place on March 2-5, 1966 took the lives of at least 18 people, and over 100,000 sheep, cattle and hogs. Winds blew with gusts up to 70 mph, causing zero visibility for 11 hours and less than a quarter mile visibility for another 19 hours.

Playing in the Region 4 basketball tournament on Thursday, March 3, 1966, Doland lost their playoff chance to Bryant 57-54. After the game, about 250 Doland fans, players and students left the Huron Arena determined to make it back to Doland. As the buses and cars drove north on Highway 37, they faced worsening blizzard conditions. Three bus loads and several cars made it to Pheasant City, a country gas station at the intersection of highways 28 and 37 about 18 miles north of Huron. Eighty-five people jammed themselves into the small grocery store inside the gas station. Twenty-one people made it 6 miles east of Pheasant City and waited out the storm at Bloomfield.

Linda (Hofer) Loewen was a high school junior at the time. She and her family lived on the highway 2 miles north of Pheasant City. Loewen remembers her father saying, “This looks like a bad storm. I’ll turn the yard light on. It might save someone’s life. Someone might see it and we can help them out.”

Little did her father know that a few hours later, after driving several miles with a fan watching the side of the road from the open front door of the school bus, that two bus loads of students and five car loads of Doland fans would drive into their farm yard. “It was very late, and I was ready for bed,” Loewen recalls. “People just kept coming through the front door. I thought the line would never stop.” In all, 88 people packed into that country farmhouse, destined to spend the next 2 1/2 days waiting for the blizzard to blow over. Every room was full of people. There were not enough beds, not enough seats and only one bathroom.

Loewen says they did everything possible to make everyone comfortable. “We spent the days and nights watching the clocks. They were copying Mom’s recipes, and on Friday afternoon, Mom showed the ladies how to make homemade noodles.” The Hofers had several milk cows, several hundred chickens and a deep freeze full of baked goods and meat. “They would tie a string of twine around Dad and he would go to the barn to milk the cows and gather the eggs,” Loewen recalls. “Mom boiled dozens of eggs and they drank gallons and gallons of milk.” To celebrate a couple of birthdays during those two days, the ladies baked a birthday cake.

About noon on Saturday, March 5, the wind let up and the snow stopped. There were 8 to 10 foot drifts everywhere, but slowly the stranded guests and school buses left those warm homes and continued on to Doland.

The deep freeze was empty, the house was a mess and over 30 dozen eggs were gone. “As the people left they were leaving money on the kitchen table for Mom,” Loewen recalls. “Mom said, ‘They sure didn’t have to do that. I’m so glad we could save some lives.’”

About the Author: Bob Glanzer is a retired educator and banker and spent 26 years helping organize the South Dakota State Fair. He lives in Huron.

Comments

10:28 am - Mon, February 29 2016
Diana Eveleth Cole said:
I remember that in Union Center we woke up and you could not see the power lines. The Corps of Engineers had to come from Ellsworth AFB to dig tunnels so we could move. The people living away from the main road had to have the airplanes drop food for them because everything was impassable.
06:36 pm - Mon, February 29 2016
Joel Veldheer said:
I was from Platte and lived on a farm. I do not remember this storm but that spring we had six weeks where there was a blizzard every weekend; sometimes just high winds without snow. After the sixth weekend, the National Guard bulldozer had to dig out our driveway or we would not have made it to the main road. It was a very tough winter, but too many blizzards to remember.
08:24 pm - Mon, February 29 2016
I enjoyed this story so much. As I got to that last paragraph, tears filled my eyes. That's what living is all about. Great article that captured a time period only a few month before I was born. I was raised a few miles north east of Pheasant City. Thanks for this.
12:18 am - Tue, March 1 2016
Larry Crook said:
I was on one of those busses at the Hofer house. I was only 11 years old and about the youngest one there. they took good care of us but,man, that was a very boring 2.5 days. I think about it fairly often. I thank them for being there and taking us in.
01:45 am - Tue, March 1 2016
Merry Ann Reitmeier Mac said:
We lived on a farm near Climax. Mn with three little boys. We just froze for three days in what is called a "Cracker Box" house. We were all safe though and luckily had just filled up with fuel oil before the blizzard started.
We had a neighbor about two miles away whom we had to pass food too through his open bedroom window on the second floor. He was literally buried.
We were lucky to have snowmobiles, so we checked on all of our neighbors and many needed groceries so we went to town for them.
Except for a few giant cottonwood trees we lost our tree coverage. Over a hundred trees died.
We always compare blizzards to that one....the "Big One"
03:15 pm - Tue, March 1 2016
Mark Fischbach said:
I grew up on a cattle ranch ~ 10 miles SW of Faith, SD. We couldn't see 25' for almost 3 days. The snow drifts were above the REA power lines in some places. There was ~ 4' of hard packed snow everywhere. We wintered 300 cows and ~ 600 yearlings. We lost about half the yearlings but less than 10 cows. Spent the next week horseback looking for the cattle - most had drifted to the Boke ranch southeast of our place. We would find dozens bunched up in southeast fence corners, their butts to the NW which is the normal wind source. Many survived but had frozen feet or legs and we had to shoot them. Most that survived lost their tails as their crap froze to their tails. Lots of bob-tailed yealings at the sale barn that year. That was a tough year for ranchers.
09:26 am - Thu, March 3 2016
Sylvia Kennedy said:
My husband & I were at Dakota State in Madison, So. Dak. The campus is small & no classes were canceled. That was fine for me who lived on campus, poor hubby had to walk 2 miles each way because he lived off campus. They walked down the middle of the road with snow up to their hips.

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