NEWTON TWP. — After an EF-1 tornado with 90-mile-per-hour winds touched down on May 29, many residents saw damage to homes and property. Members of the Ayers family were at the Red Barn Village when the storm hit. Bert Ayers saw the sky grow dark and went home where he found his wife, Nancy in the basement.
“I didn’t think it would be quite this bad,” he said. “But I saw on my phone that there was some tornadic activity in Falls heading southeast. I knew we would be directly southeast of Falls. I ran up to get some battery operated lights out of the bedroom. By the time I got to the bedroom I thought that was going to be a very big mistake because the house was shaking and I was afraid the windows were going to go. I got back to the basement and then the storm was gone. It was very, very quick.”
The complex at Red Barn Village on Newton Ransom Boulevard is home to apartment buildings, Ayer’s Country Market, a bed and breakfast and miniature golf course.
Ayer’s brother called to report that the roof of the bed and breakfast was gone. As Ayers made his way around downed trees and debris, he was able to assess the damage.
“The gazebo was flattened, trees were down and part of the roof was torn off the bed and breakfast,” Ayers said. “I know it’s cliché, but it did indeed look like a war zone. Thank God we had no one staying at the bed and breakfast. We had glass everywhere. The storm blew the windows out of the silo suite,” Ayers shared.
Apartment buildings in the rear had shingle and siding damage, but the miniature golf course was destroyed. “We were stunned, just stunned,” Ayers said. “Luckily no one was injured.”
Ayers Country Market was open when the storm hit. Immediately after the storm ended, store manager Lisa Kircher raced over to check on everyone.
“My first thought was for the employees,” Kircher said. “I had to turn around three times to get here because of downed trees and lines. I was in a daze at first, but there was so much to be done. So we just got to work.”
“It’s amazing that the store didn’t sustain more damage,” Ayers said. While the golf course was destroyed, the store only lost a piece of flashing from one corner of the building. Ayer’s Country Market is a favorite with local residents and was busy in the days following the storm, providing a place to get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat for power company employees and tree trimmers who were still at work even a week after the storm.
Not the first
The May 29 EF-1 is the second tornado to come through since the Ayers family has owned the property.
“There was a tornado that came through the same path in the early 70’s,” Ayers said. “My father was selling truck campers at the time and it blew all the campers around.”
Carl and Sally Ayers bought the property in 1964. From 1972 to 1989, Carl and his construction crew built the Red Barn Village complex. It was Carl’s son, Bert and Bert’s wife, Nancy who started building the golf course. With help from family to finish the project, the Red Barn Village miniature golf course opened on Memorial Day of 1979.
“The tornado came through within a day of our 40th anniversary,” Bert Ayers said. “We will reopen it, but we will take our time.”
“There is still a lot of clean up to be done,” Ayers said.
A large pile of trees sits in somber reminder of the storm’s destructive power.
A caring community
The community came together to help the Ayers family following the storm.
“The next morning I had somewhere between 20 and 30 people here,” Ayers said.
“That’s the silver lining,” Kircher said. “So many came right away and helped. We were fully operational at the store the next day and able to serve food for the workers.”
Friends and neighbors brought manpower, chain saws and heavy equipment.
“We had the biggest part of the cleaning done in one day,” Ayers said. “There were so many local people who pitched in. My phone started ringing at 6:30 a.m. with folks asking ‘What do you need?’”
“The golf course was pretty much destroyed. It blew the covered bridge right off its foundation and the roof was torn off of it,” Ayers said. “It’s an icon and it’s gone.”
The top of the golf course lighthouse blew off. The lighthouse is the second tallest building Ayers had on the golf course. “For whatever reason, the lighthouse didn’t blow over,” he said, amazed.
Strong and unyielding, it stands like a beacon of hope for the Ayers family.
The question I have been asked is ‘Do you start over?’ And the plan is to rebuild the miniature golf course and reopen next year on Memorial Day. But right now too many other things are a priority.”
Ayers said there are other trees that need to be cleared, and piles of debris on the miniature golf course that need to be removed and cleaned up. People willing to help can stop in to the store or call the Red Barn Village. Ayers said they plan to rebuild the gazebo and reopen the bed and breakfast as soon as they can. When rooms are available to rent, customers can book a room on booking.com
Ayers, who suffered a stroke March 31, said, “I am being told that I am a miracle. I was told I wouldn’t be back to anywhere near normal activity for months. The tornado sped things up a little bit. I couldn’t wait. I had to come out and get started.”
“We’re getting hit. There’s a little cloud over us. But we have a lot to be thankful for too. Why not stay positive? Anything else would be self-defeating. There’s nothing left to do except get back to work and go on.”
Picking up the pieces, side by side with family and friends, the Ayers family is doing just that.