1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak. On April 10–12, 1965, a devastating severe weather event affected the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. The tornado outbreak produced 55 confirmed tornadoes in one day and 16 hours. The worst part of the outbreak occurred during the afternoon hours of April 11 into the overnight hours going into April 12.
Tornadoes confirmed: 55.
This large tornado began near Jefferson and rapidly widened to 3⁄4 mi across. As it neared Wisconsin Highway 30—presently Interstate 94—the tornado "practically leveled" a forest. Shortly thereafter, the tornado struck the community of Pipersville; nearby, it tossed two cars off Wisconsin Highway 16, killing three of their occupants. The tornado also destroyed buildings on 20 farms. At least 28 people were injured and taken to St. Mary’s hospital. Losses totaled $2.5 million.
04 11 1965 (date of tornado)
Homes, Farm Barns, Are Smashed by Twister
Three motorists were killed
Three motorists were killed instantly on highway 16, a short distance east of Watertown, when a tornado swept through this area on Sunday afternoon.
It hit at 3:30 p.m. The twister tossed the cars into a field, 40 yards from the highway. Those killed were in two of the cars.
The wife of one of the motorists is in serious condition at Watertown Memorial Hospital.
A total of 28 persons were taken to the hospital. Of the 28, three were pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital, four still are under treatment and 21 were released after being given medical attention.
E. H. Zimmerman, 53, Cross Plains, Wis.
Susan Zimmerman, 7, his daughter.
Ivan Schroeder, Waukesha.
Zimmerman’s wife, Evelyn, 49, remains in serious condition at the hospital.
Mrs. Ivan (Gladys) Schroeder, 51, is listed in fair condition at the hospital today.
The Zimmerman car and the Schroeder car were blown from the highway, turning over and over.
Schroeder, it is believed, was thrown through the windshield of the car.
Robert Baker, 32, of 31 Jackson Street, Titusville, Pa., whose truck overturned on highway 30, is listed in good condition at the Watertown hospital. A passenger in the truck escaped with minor scratches and bruises.
Allen Dietzel, 36, route 4, Watertown (Coffee Road), was admitted to the hospital here after he became ill at his home following the tornado. The hospital reported his condition as fair today. He became ill after seeing both barns on his farm toppled in the storm. No cattle were lost. Several trees on the farm were uprooted.
In addition to the Schroeder and Zimmerman cars, two other cars were blown from the road and overturned, state traffic officers reported.
One motorist and his family escaped when the motorist backed the car into a side road. They laid flat in the car. When the tornado passed, windows on both sides were smashed by lumber from a nearby barn which was badly damaged.
Hit from Southwest
Numerous barns and houses were completely demolished and extensively damaged. The. tornado hit from the southwest. It struck about four miles south of the city, passing around Watertown in a northeasterly direction.
Typical of the rural destruction in the Watertown area were scenes like this:
Windows out, furniture broken into kindling, curtains pasted to sides of walls, clothing in trees, shingles scattered about.
Heavy beams driven through the wall.
4 barns blown across a road.
A barn destroyed on one farm, but 35 people in the nearby house for a confirmation party were not hurt as the house was untouched. A 1965 Buick in the yard had a tree on top of it. People turned out with chain saws to help clean up. Farmers got two taxis from Watertown to get them into damage areas to help friends.
Some cattle were killed on the Clarence Frederick farm near Ashippun in Dodge County.
Communications were knocked out in part of the area.
Damage was extensive on county trunk Y (River Road) where many houses were completely demolished.
One of the homes completely demolished was. occupied by Richard Conley, Watertown High School English and Latin teacher, and his family. When he heard the high winds he rushed his three children, Kevan, 3, Mary Meghan, 3, and Kiara Mary, eight months-old, to the basement. “When I didn’t see my wife down there, I shouted up the stairwell for her.” When the tornado struck she was near the top of the basement steps. Mrs. Conley was treated at the Watertown hospital for minor injuries and released.
Lifted from Foundation
The entire four-year old three-bedroom home was lifted from the foundation above Mrs. Conley’s head as she came down the stairs, Conley said. It landed in a splintered heap about 50 feet away.
A home owned by the Jack Wollins on county trunk Y, just north of Conleys, was ripped to bits with some of the debris tossed over a wide area.
Fifty-nine head of cattle were trapped in the barn when the floor of the barn collapsed and fell on the cattle.
Of the 59 head, 12 cows and eight heifers were killed or destroyed. The other cows were taken to nearby farms.
The machine shed with construction completed only two weeks ago contained tractors, an elevator, two self-loading wagons and other machinery, all of which were destroyed. The barn was constructed in 1960.
A confirmation party was underway at the Donald Schmidt home, route 3, Watertown, when the twister hit. The tornado demolished the second floor and blew out windows on the first floor. Of the 17 persons in the house at the time 12 were taken to the Watertown hospital for treatment and released.
Harold Barkow, 41, Wauwatosa, whose daughter was being feted at the confirmation party along with a son of the Schmidts, said “we had little warning of what was coming.”
“I was walking toward the kitchen when suddenly I was picked off my feet, and flung across the room, landing against the wall,” Barkow ; said. All the windows were, blown in, and the house inside was a shamble, he said,
“I felt like I was in the war,” said truck driver James Greene, 31, Buffalo, N.Y. “I was so scared that I was sick.” His truck was lifted sideways on 1-94.
Greene said he was driving east on 1-94 toward Milwaukee when he noticed raindrops “the size of tangerines,” and a heavy wind. Suddenly, he said, a portion of a barn sailed across the highway, and other debris whipped around the truck.
A car in front of him stopped and “the windows blew out. All of a sudden the truck was lifted up, and turned around facing sideways,” he said.
A barn, silo and two corn cribs were extensively damaged on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Everett Nass located on county trunk GH, route 1, Ixonia. The roof on the house was blown off. Across the road from the Nass farm a roof on the Martin Melcher home was damaged and a machine shed destroyed.
The Rock River Paradies area, southeast of Watertown, also felt the brunt of the storm. Half of an A-frame house, owned by Merlyn Bass of Waukesha and occupied by William Cabak, was lifted off its foundation. A tree toppled on the new home of John Koser. Mrs. Russell Jordan said the twister toppled several trees on her property.
At the Leslie Umland farm on highway 26 a barn and milk house were destroyed.
At the Miller farm on County Trunk Y the barn and house-were badly damaged.
A trailer on County Trunk Y was extensively damaged.
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Dehnert Kewaskurn, had the rear window of their car blown out. They had attended a confirmation at Lake Mills and were enroute to Watertown to attend a party at Turner Hall in honor of the confirmation of Karen Kottwitz, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Kottwitz, who was confirmed at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
Mrs. Dehnert is a sister of Mrs. Leonard Kottwitz and Mrs. Harvey Kottwitz; this city. Mr. Dehnert is a brother of Rueben Dehnert, this city.
They returned to Kewaskum for treatment.
The injured were brought to the hospital in the Meyer ambulance and other ambulances, which were pressed into service.
All doctors were called and treated the injured.
Three rooms were cleared on the hospital third floor, with the patients being moved to other areas. The rooms were used as emergency rooms.
All off duty nurses were called and responded.
Leo Bargielski, hospital administrator, had nothing but praise today for the response from doctors and nurses. The emergency, he said, was handled efficiently and fast.
100 Phones Out
The Wisconsin Telephone Co. also reported extensive damage, but none in the city. It extended largely around the Ixonia area and some 100 telephones were out of service as a result of the twister.
W. W. Carroll, telephone company manager, said that 12 telephone poles were down and many wires were broken or damaged.
The company acted quickly to restore service and had 19 men out today on that job.
Mr. Carroll said they would work until dark and any work not completed by then would be done tomorrow. He said the company hoped to have nearly all service restored by tonight.
Power Service Hit
Electrical service was hard hit, but there was no damage or interruption of service in Watertown itself.
William Rathert, district manager of the Wisconsin Electric Co., said the damage was south and east of Watertown and some into the area north of the city as far as Ashippun.
“It could have been worse,” Mr. Rathert said, “but considering everything it was bad enough and we have repair crews out repairing the damage. We have seven out of town crews here to assist us — three from West Bend, three from Delafield and one from Waukesha. They will carry on and restore service just as rapidly as possible.”
• Three motorists were killed instantly on highway 16, east to the city
• The. tornado hit from the southwest. It struck about four miles south of the city, passing around Watertown in a northeasterly direction.
• Windows out, furniture broken into kindling, curtains pasted to sides of walls, clothing in trees, shingles scattered about.
• Heavy beams driven through walls.
• Four barns blown across a road.
• A barn destroyed on one farm, but 35 people in the nearby house for a confirmation party were not hurt as the house was untouched.
• People turned out with chain saws to help clean up.
• Farmers got two taxis from Watertown to get them into damage areas to help friends.
• Communications were knocked out in part of the area.
• Damage was extensive on county trunk Y (River Road) where many houses were completely demolished.
• Fifty-nine head of cattle were trapped in the barn when the floor of the barn collapsed and fell on the cattle.
• The machine shed with construction completed only two weeks ago contained tractors, an elevator, two self-loading wagons and other machinery, all of which were destroyed.
• A confirmation party was underway at the Donald Schmidt home, route 3. The tornado demolished the second floor and blew out windows on the first floor. Of the 17 persons in the house at the time 12 were taken to the Watertown hospital.
• A barn, silo and two corn cribs were extensively damaged on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Everett Nass located on county trunk GH, route 1, Ixonia. The roof on the house was blown off.
• Across the road from the Nass farm a roof on the Martin Melcher home was damaged and a machine shed destroyed.
• The Rock River Paradies area, southeast of Watertown, also felt the brunt of the storm.
• Half of an A-frame house, owned by Merlyn Bass of Waukesha and occupied by William Cabak, was lifted off its foundation.
• The Leslie Umland farm on highway 26 a barn and milk house were destroyed.
• At the Miller farm on County Trunk Y the barn and house-were badly damaged.
• A trailer on County Trunk Y was extensively damaged.
• Mr. and Mrs. Fred Dehnert Kewaskurn, had the rear window of their car blown out. They had attended a confirmation at Lake Mills and were enroute to Watertown to attend a party at Turner Hall in honor of the confirmation of Karen Kottwitz, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Kottwitz, who was confirmed at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
Remember it well. I was 10. The roof at the movie theatre was so full of water after the storm, a small part collapsed. The tornado(es) had struck while we were in the theatre (no sirens back then). The water poured in behind us, it sounded like a loud crackling fire. We had no clue what was happening and all just ran to the fire exits. By that time the sun was shining outside. Our parents had come to retrieve us after the storm waiting for us to come out. They took us to show us the devastation of the storm.
Margaret Houser Gentzen
I remember this well. We lived on E, just past Pipersville. My mom was outside and watched it in the vicinity of the Schmidt farm. Linda Schmidt was a classmate.
I was 14 and watching my younger sisters. My parents had gone to Milwaukee. The sky was very dark. Mom said the storm passed in front of them near Ixonia on the way home.
This was my Confirmation day & will never forget it. Steve Schmidt, whose farm was destroyed, was in my Confirmation class. I remember him saying how he got everyone down the basement right before the tornado hit. He lost all his Confirmation gifts but was glad all were OK. After the storm, we were riding around seeing all the destruction in our area. Where Walmart is now, was hit. For years after, I was very afraid when there was a storm.
I remember! it was confirmation Sunday for my brother!!
Remember this well. City/school organized us older students to volunteer and go out of town where tornado hit and clean up the debris...as we were on spring vacation.
I think it moved the barn off foundation on the farm. It was confirmation Sunday in Clyman and cousins confirmation party. They went in basement.
I was only 7 but remember that very well. I also was attending a confirmation at Turner Hall that day
Deborah Maas Brix
I was just describing this day to Patty Sullivan. The day I got stranded on the river spinning in my canoe. I wasn't far from home, but I couldn't get there.
Jason Jaeger We were in your house and your Grandmother LaVerne in the chicken coop when this occurred.
Jason Jaeger It was the Sunday your dad was confirmed. I was in England at the time. Your Grandma did send pictures to me. They are still somewhere, but not one of Mr. Conley (picture above)who was my English teacher. Yes, I did hear about the chicken coop story many times. She was lucky in a way---could've ended up where Erika and Shadd now live. Your dad would know more about the destruction in the area.
I helped clean up after that tornado. A bunch met at city hall and they trucked us out to work on Highway E.
My friends and I went to see a Disney movie at the Classic Theater that afternoon. It rained so hard there was water running down the aisles of the theater.
I remember it well. It was my confirmation day. While it did not impact me directly, some people coming to my confirmation reception were delayed because they were very close to it and had to seek shelter in a ditch.
I was leaving Watertown headed to Madison. Driving on Hwy 94 very near the center of the Tornado. Feared the car would roll over into the marsh. Everything was black. Had my baby daughter in front in one of those flimsy car seats. When we could fin… See More
My grandparents’ garage was leveled and the cars inside destroyed by the tornado. They lived on Luttman Drive between the Little Coffee Road and Hwy D. My grandpa had just closed up the barn and garage and was heading to the house. He was thrown a shor… See More
The train I was on from Milwaukee to Watertown had to stop because the train cars were violently leaning back and forth, the daylight turned pitch black with dirt in the air. The train waited awhile before continuing into Watertown.
I remember this. We heard it as we lived right off of hwy16 by the VW garage and tip up. Saw things flying ad well.
Gordon Kuester do you remember l remember dick Hoeft next to hank rabbach said he saw the bottom of rock river that day
I remember. We were in Ixonia at my grandparents and the sirens went off. If I remember, There was a girl my age killed in a car that was overturned by ixonia. I remember the destruction.
Remember it very well. Was Confirmation Day at our church!
My parents were driving in front of two of the people killed on 16 and assisted the injured at the
Karen Melcher Hafenstein
I remember this well. I was 10 1/2. The report talks about our farm, the Martin Melcher farm. My sister and I were taken to my cousin, Rueben and Ruth Mallow, who kept us a few days so my parents could get a temporary roof on the house and clean up some. Dick Pagels (not yet Pastor) brought us home when it was safe. My dad had flat tires on the farm equipment for years because of all the nails and metal blown on the fields. I'm a grandmother myself now and will always hear the roar of that tornado in my mind. God kept us safe
That was my confirmation day at St. Paul’s in Oconomowoc. I remember that my grandparents (Reinhold and Lydia Laabs) drove back to Watertown that afternoon. They were OK, but were pretty shaken up.
Susan K Gaspar
I remember going to look at the huge willow trees at Union Park that were twisted off at the ground. I picked up a broken branch and painted the date on it🥺 Had it for years🤪
On Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965, there was a tornado that went from Lake Mills to around Lebanon and went right through where our farm was where we grew up. The barn and silo went down and most of the barn was on the railroad track. On the house all the shingles were off and the house twisted about two inches on the foundation but otherwise alright. Also two people were killed right there on the highway. The neighbor boy was coming home from Ixonia and saw the storm and tried to get home. As he turned in the driveway the car was picked up and he fell out the rear window unhurt. The neighbor to the west of our farm had a confirmation party with some forty people in the house and the storm took off the entire second floor and roof but no one was hurt. The barn also went down. Two neighbors to the northeast of our farm also lost their barns. We were called to bring plywood and nail over some of the windows at the Joe Weber home at Johnson Creek. Their barn also went down and a beam about forty feet long went right through the upstairs of the house and stuck out the other end about fifteen feet. This beam went right through the hall and did not touch the walls. Joe Weber is a first cousin of my wife, Estella. We also rebuilt another house and garage near Johnson Creek which was completely gone. These people were in the stairway going down to the basement but did not get all the way down. Another house we replaced some windows and roof. This man said he saw the storm coming and as it crossed the river he said the water was gone and then tried to get to the basement but could not get the door open. A lot of this water also came in the house when the windows were blown out. We could have had more work from that storm but were real busy and some things could not wait.
History of Watertown, Wisconsin