Marshalltown tornado

Recovering from Marshalltown’s tornadoes

When the tornado sirens went off July 19, 2018, Greg and Mindy Van Dyke initially shrugged it off, as born-and-raised Iowans tend to do.

“We’re typical Iowa people. We looked outside, and it didn’t look all that bad, so we thought it would be OK,” said Greg.

Greg is a commercial corn and soybean farmer and runs the family farm in Searsboro, Iowa, near Grinnell. Mindy owns and runs Stepping Stones Christian Bookstores, with locations in Grinnell and nearby Marshalltown.

That day, Greg was working in Searsboro and Mindy was running the store in Marshalltown. She was just about to head home but decided to wait out the storm. She moved their new car to the front of the store, so she could get home faster after the weather settled, and then went to the basement with a coworker. The lights went out (it would be another 48 hours before they returned), and they waited.

After a deafening couple of minutes, Mindy and her coworker went up to the main level of the store, unsure what to expect.

They were shocked by what they found, as were many people in the path of the July 19 storms.

 “There was not one inch of street or sidewalk that wasn’t completely covered with broken glass or debris,” Mindy said.


What Mindy and Greg could not have known that day was that 19 tornadoes had ripped through central Iowa. The largest ones hit Marshalltown and nearby Pella, reaching EF-3 status with peak winds of 144 mph.

Dan Sondag, a senior physical damage specialist at Grinnell Mutual, was part of the responding CAT team. He arrived in Marshalltown the following day and spent the next couple of weeks assessing vehicles for damages — about 40 in total. He credits Claims Adjuster Specialist Jana Innis for a fast turnaround with paperwork.

“I went to a parking lot in Marshalltown and it was chaos. Just terrible. Cars were upside down, on their sides, windows busted out,” he said. “I just cannot believe no one was killed.”

All in all, more than 800 buildings in Marshalltown were damaged, undoing over 15 years of hard work and millions of dollars of renovations in the downtown area and destroying many livelihoods and homes.


The Van Dykes took two hits: one to their store and one to their car.

Fortuitously, Mindy had not locked the storefront doors before heading to the basement. When the storm hit, the doors apparently had flung open for a moment, letting in a cloud of gritty dust that covered the store, top to bottom, front to back. Miraculously, her 14-foot, floor-to-ceiling storefront windows were intact and none of the inventory was damaged.

“We actually ended up being better off than most, and we were right in the middle of the worst of it. I feel like God had a protective hand over it,” Mindy said.

The damage to the car, which they had purchased only 10 months before, was extensive. And at some point, the vehicle must have been airborne, as a curtain and some other miscellaneous items were stuck under the front wheels.

After the storm, when Greg got to Marshalltown to see the damage first-hand, he felt overwhelmed at the sight of the top of the courthouse blown off, but mostly he felt relieved.

“We were all safe. The rest of it — that’s what we have insurance for,” Greg said.


The next day, Greg submitted his auto claim to Grinnell Mutual. The claim came to telephone claims adjuster Nicole Meldrem.

For Meldrem, the situation hit close to home. She grew up only five minutes from Marshalltown’s downtown. Her mother and stepfather work at Lennox, which employs 1,400 people in the area. The facility was hit hard and it was nearly nine weeks before Meldrem’s stepfather was able to return to work.

“Anytime something touches close to home, it makes it a little more near and dear. I wanted to do what I could to be on top of everything,” Meldrem said.

Greg was impressed by Meldrem’s kindness and above-and-beyond work ethic. “She was great,” Greg said. “Emphasize that.” When Meldrem went on vacation that week, Greg opted to wait for her return instead of switching to another adjuster. As it turned out, the car was a total loss and the Van Dykes decided to purchase a new car.

In an unusual but efficient move, Greg drove to Grinnell Mutual to exchange the vehicle and title. When he arrived, Nicole handed him the check.

The couple was impressed with the service. “Insurance needs to help you through the process, not make it worse,” Mindy said. “And that’s exactly what Nicole at Grinnell Mutual did.”

Almost a year later, Marshalltown continues to rebuild and the Van Dykes are doing well.

“I’m still not that worried when the severe weather warning goes off,” Greg said, laughing. “But my wife is very concerned about it now.”


How to file a claim


Photo credit: Hans Madsen and Marshalltown Times-Republican.