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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.
08:30 pm - Thu, March 2 2017
Jane Wright said:
I was in Mobridge when this storm occurred. My dad and I used a rope tied to our garage to get about 10 feet to the next door neighbor's house to help her and her two small children back to our house because their furnace stovepipe froze over. After the storm subsided, it took a front loader a whole day to dig out one lane in a drift across the road to the south of us. The two doors on the south side of the house were completely drifted over. It was a long three days!
08:10 am - Sat, March 4 2017
clark wold said:
I was a student at Jamestown College at the time. The blizzard was so bad that the cooks for the dining room, who lived downtown in Jamestown, couldn't get up the hill to the college to cook for us. One of the cooks lived in a dorm, and she assembled a group of students to cook for us. Students also jumped off the roof of the student union into the snow drifts below.
06:47 am - Sat, March 2 2019
Dan said:
I was a young boy from Wall South Dakota when the storm hit. I remember going out my bedroom window coming around the south side of the house to shovel out our back door and my mother’s bedroom window. Us 5th grade boys then went uptown and I climbed to the top of the snowdrift which nearly covered the roof of the “pool hall” on one side and grabed the Schlitz beer sign when I made it to the top. I received a tremendous shock and fell clear to the bottom of that massive drift! As others have stated, the powerlines in Wall were only about 3 to 4 feet above some of the drifts. So, the cops were doing everything possible to warn kids to stay off them! The Bridge underpasses were also plugged shut. Amazing storm!
01:44 pm - Sat, March 2 2019
Dorothy M. Wiederhold said:
I remember this storm well. I lived and worked at Igloo, SD, for the DOD. My Mom and brother were visiting us to help with my baby and 2 toddlers. I left the house early to pick up a co-worker. Unfortunately, within 5 minutes of leaving the house a radio announcement stated that employees were to remain home because of the weather conditions. I got stuck before I got to co-worker's house and had to walk through knee deep snow. (In those days females were expected to "dress" for work---skirts, dresses - NO SLACKS) By the time I got home my legs were in bad shape from the cold. My Mom "thawed" my legs and feet by gradually soaking from cool water to warm water. I had chill-blaines for weeks.
03:26 pm - Sat, March 2 2019
Stephanie said:
My family of 6 was among the 21 at Bloomfield and I was a freshman in high school. Surprisingly, the four families stranded were all together. Not one sibling or parent was separated! Bloomfield was a two room home and a country grocery, so we did have food like ice cream in the freezers! Our hosts were an older couple who had a record player with ONE album....the Green Beret. We made a couple decks of cards and took turns sleeping in corners of the floor. They did have a phone, which wasn't working, but we discovered that we could leave the receiver off the hook and communicate with Pheasant City and the Hofer farm. Remarkably, we didn't lose power. It was a miracle that we found Bloomfield, by driving the middle of the road with car doors open to guide along the center stripe. It was a total whiteout for 2 1/2 days!! And no lives were lost!
06:29 pm - Sat, March 2 2019
Tamara (McLeod) Osterberg said:
I am Tamara (McLeod) Osterberg and lived in Doland SD in 1966. My dad Bill McLeod was Superintendent of Doland at the time and had to be in Huron early for meetings prior to the regional basketball game. So my mom, sisters and I rode to the game in Huron that day with Paul and Ivy Lobizt. I was 12 at the time. It was beautiful weather going to the game but after the game I remember a long line of very slow moving cars headed north out of Huron and visibility was very poor. We ended up at Pheasant City, but my dad made it home to Doland. I remember him telling us that he thought he must be going to fast but the speedometer said 0!! I recall there being 111 or so people staying there. There were 3 bus loads of kids and the people just kept coming!! People were sleeping on the floors, chairs and anywhere they could find a spot. My sister Marla said she recalls sleeping on the meat counter and there being a shortage of food with so many people. Milk was short in supply as it had to be saved for the baby that was there. I remember watching people play a lot of cards. After 2/12 days my dad sent out buses to get us and bring people back to Doland where some good people had food prepared for everyone. Mom had us ride one of the buses home which proved to be a blessing as Paul and Ivy ended up in the ditch. They said if we had been in the car, we probably would have gone through the windshield! I also compare other storms to the huge storm of 1966.
06:35 pm - Sat, March 2 2019
Kitty Mihills Monke said:
I was a Sr in high school at Wall, SD during that storm. We had no power & an all electric house, but got out & walked over the snowdrifts a block to a couple who had heat. The snow was level about 3 foot below the power lines. I’ve lived through some wicked winters, but that one left an impression for life.
09:19 am - Sun, March 3 2019
Colleen Wilson-McKinstry said:
I remember that storm we lived on a ranch 25 miles south of Bison..I was 9 years old at the time..the wind howled for 3 days...electricity went out, we had a floor furnace to keep us warm..I remember making animal shadows on the wall with our hands in the candle light..the snow was so deep that it covered the cars parked in the drive way...we walked over the top of them...I will never forget the storm of 1966...
06:06 am - Mon, March 4 2019
Shirley Skoglund said:
How well I remember that blizzard! I had come home for my father's funeral in southeastern North Dakota. We struggled to get back to the farm house following the funeral service. My brother, sister-in-law and I were stranded there for several days until we could return to our homes in South Dakota! Another brother and sister-in-law were able to return to their home in Minnesota since their weather was not as severe. After the blizzard ended, we went out with scoop shovels and said "We THINK the cars are here!" They were completely covered in huge drifts!!

07:26 am - Mon, March 4 2019
Claudia Loecker said:
This was so interesting to read. We are so fortunate now to have weather reports to indicate when NOT to travel. Kudos to that farm family who took in all those basketball fans. I am sure they were all very grateful. A wonderful testimony to the hospitality & big hearts of South Dakota folks. God bless them.
07:23 pm - Mon, March 4 2019
tim gilbert said:
The days we spent at Pheasant City is one of my earliest memories. I would have been almost five, my sister not quite four. The two of us thought it was a grand adventure; the first night my sister stayed up until 5:30AM. Two interesting points that my mom told me years later:
1. We had bought goldfish in Huron and forgot them in the car. By the time Mom remembered and sent Dad to get them, the bag was frozen solid. Mom said not to worry, just let them thaw out naturally. By the end of the day, the fish were swimming around as if nothing had happened.
2. A group of the high school kids went missing. They showed back up a few hours later. They driven to one of their homes to get makeup, clothes etc and returned for the party.
08:32 am - Tue, March 5 2019
Harvey Lee said:
I remember lots of severe winter storms growing up in SD but I missed this epic storm. I was stationed in Pensacola, FL during this storm. Don’t even remember getting letters about the storm. Dang, missed a classic SD storm.
12:26 pm - Tue, March 5 2019
Fran VanBockel said:
I was in the fifth grade one of 11 children in Gettysburg South Dakota. My mom blocked off all the rooms with blankets and we lived in the kitchen all of us. In the middle of the room was a kerosene heater on top of it 0kerosene heater with a little stove she cooked oatmeal and popcorn, oat meal and popcorn. We had no electricity but did have two kerosene lamps we would sit at the table play cards and read some. When we were let outside to play the snow was taller then the vehicles you could go right to the neighbors by following a powerline just over your head. How we all survived was a miracle.. however I also believe it was how one lived in the times.

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