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Jeremy Kappell
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Stories from '74: Brandenburg's Dan Dressel

Dan Dressel was 15 years old when the tornado struck Brandenburg.  He lost his father in that storm and nearly lost his mother and grandparents as well.  Here is his story.. 

Dan Dressel. Good to see you again. Good to see you Sir.  It’s been a few years.  It has been about 10 I believe.  It has. That's right. So let's jump right in to this and let's take you straight back to the morning of April 3rd, OK? Where were you? How old were you? What was going on in your life at the time?

I was 15 years old and. I was thinking about this before as as you called me the other day, I was, I remember waking up in the morning and my parents bedroom was right across from mine and I remember looking in. I saw my father laying in the bed there and as I went to the bathroom not thinking anything would happen and I was in the band, the Meade County Band. We had practice after that, so we had different friends that were a little bit older than me. I was 15 and they had already had their driver’s license. So they would drive us to school. I remember going to school. I remember. The the morning that the the sky it was kind of a burnt orange look to it and and it just stuck in my in my mind the whole day you know who knows what was gonna happen or whatever? But I was in my or my business classes and and it seemed like it just got darker and darker and and. It just got still, real still and at the end of the day. On the last period was 6th period. And that's when we had our band. The whole band was there that day and we stayed after we had a sectional switch all like I played saxophone and and all the sections where we're getting ready for a concert and all the sections had their own thing going. So we were all together there. In the band director was there and it seemed like there was many, many students. The football team was there. I believe they were taking pictures as the cheerleaders and a lot of things. It seemed like there was many, many students at the school that day and all of a sudden

I remember the Superintendent Stuart Pepper. Come to the bandroom and and the whole band was back together at the time and he said you need to need to get downstairs. There's there's tornado coming towards Brandenburg and so we didn't think anything. When you're young and you know you're bulletproof, you don't think of any of that stuff. I remember going down to the the hall. We went into the Ag room which was right below the bedroom and it sent it into most of the people around there, but I wanna last ones at the top of the stairs. We got right and I can remember the band director was in the Ag room and I noticed the windows were just kind of going in and out. You could see the the rain pressing on it. Lasted about maybe 30 seconds. And superintendent was down there too with us. It wasn’t that big of an area, but they fit as many as they could down there. He said. Paul Davis get away from that window that one is gonna bust and and you know, and all of a sudden everything stopped. So man at the at the end of that we all went back up to the band room and and and there wasn't a lot of we didn't have much damage there. I mean this didn't last long.

This was for from my experience it was just like a matter of minutes as far as the the the the heavy winds and and what not, but we. We all went back to the band room and they said well you know, there is damage, you know, on, you know, one part of the town and everybody just, you know, get in your cars and go home. So we turned towards the downtown and. And you got to the end of the street on on to broadway looked to the left look like a warzone. I mean it was just, you could tell, OK, look to the right and look like anything happened. So I said, hey, it's not really didn't happen here. So I remember going home. And we rode home and they dropped me off the house and and. And there wasn't anybody at my house at the time, you know, I didn't know where my parents were. I didn't even know they were going to Brandenburg. But I I was there by myself and said, well I’m going to go over to the business here in town and that’s where a lot of us hung out a little bit. And uh. I walked in there and and and I was telling them yeah we were down in Brandenburg and and and we heard that there was a tornado and and and you know I didn't know. You didn't know. I didn't hear about all that.  And then another friend of mine come in and said I'm sorry to hear that your father, you know, got killed in the tornado. The first I’d heard of that. It floor-boarded me and that that's how I found out my father died. Wow. And I said, oh, you're crazy. I don't believe it. I don’t believe it for a second. And I was getting fidgety. I was sitting there trying to have a conversation with the guys and everything. And then I said well I’m going home.  So I went back to my house. By this time there was people arriving at the house there, parents weren't there and I knew something was up, so. I mean you know they, then a good friend of my father said yes, you know your father did pass away in the tornado. Wow.  and I didn’t know anything about my mother and I didn’t know my grandparents were down there and. And and I I don't know. I just kind of shut down. It just kind of I don't know I you know I heard them talking but didn't hear them talk.

You know I was just kind of and my sister and my brother were at Western Kentucky at the time they were in college and and they had just made supper. When I got the phone call, just sat down to the table and got the phone call that there's been a tornado didn't tell me. You know, I think about my parents, they said you need to get back here, you know that. They left the food on the table. And drove back in and found out, you know, as I did, you know, same thing I did after after they got back, so. I mean, as far as that goes then my parents, I'll tell you about my parents.

There was a tornado a couple days before in Payneville and my parents, my grandparents, lived out on the road. You come in on 1638. They lived up on the hill there and and my father had had work to do at the courthouse. Jim Greer was the judge at the time. He went to Payneville, took my grandparents to show them the damage. You know, they left there and they went to Brandenburg, took care of the paperwork, and is at the courthouse. And. Just getting ready to leave. They they left on the car and left as soon as they got to the bottom of the hill, getting ready to go up the hill on Broadway on downtown there. The insurance man across street waved them in and said you know there's been a tornado spotted in Brandenburg.  And you need to, you know, you need to kind get here. 

They came out of the car when mom said they got out of the car and it's kind of you know like you know just a little bit of wind and whatever and and and it wasn't a whole lot to it. And then it started picking up anymore. And then they they went into the office to the to the insurance office. And my dad was the 1st in my mother's, behind him my grandfather and then my grandmother. And they walked in and the insurance man was already back in his office, back in the corner. Soon as they walked in and everything on top of the hill come down on top of them. And my father was killed in the tornado. And my mother was behind him and she had lacerations on her arm, broken leg, and she was laid up for six months after that. She wasn't. She was in pretty tough shape. My grandparents, my my grandfather had a broken leg and he was all bruised up. My grandmother got the ones the least with with just bruises all over her, but I mean it took a toll on them also. But like I said, that’s the gist of it right there.

That's obviously a changing point to your whole life, right? Right. And I'm sure you were absolutely in shock at the time. I was in shock when, when, when, when I actually come back to my house and and my dad's friend was there and he told me about it. And it just this day I miss my dad everyday. I miss my mother. My mother passed away a couple years ago. Sorry. That's fine thank you And well, I don't you know that my grandparents they've been gone for several years too. I said I think about all of them all time. That's the ones I miss right there your family, that's tough, tough to lose them. You mentioned you saw your dad in bed that morning. I remember. Yeah, I remember seeing him there. And I don't know. I mean, I I could visual the way he was was laying in the bed. I could just visualize that.

If you could tell your dad anything. If you could go back, what would you tell him? Ohh man, oh man, that I loved him. That I love him and I miss him and I wanna be just like him because he was great person. He helped this town. He was. He was on the City Council at the time of his death and. My parents come from Wisconsin. And he was in the military him and my uncle did basic training down at Fort Knox and he stayed at Fort Knox after basic. My uncle went to to Georgia and he was in the military band. He he traveled the world he was in the middle to the army band and and got to play all overseas in Europe and everything.  But my dad he got established here he loved the area. Like I said they're from Wisconsin they were farmers and and and he loved the area and and they just they they were both go getters my parents they and they created several businesses here and and my dad and my mother both they, they were giving people and they helped people. You know, now we need more of that in the world right now but but, but, and and I saw that in my father. I mean that's the reason that I joined the fire department and that's the reason I joined the Lions Club. And and I try to raise my kids the same way and my grandkids now. That, you know, being nice to people, help people. And that's what you're supposed to do in life.

Yeah. So you mentioned you got a little memorial for your dad? They they they what? What the Memorial.. it’s actually not a memorial, it’s a safe room tornado shelter that they built in 2012 and this is the first safe room that was awarded with FEMA money to the state of Kentucky and and they had a dedication to my father. I was here and I didn't know what they were doing but they had a dedication. I got to speak there, they had generals from Knox and and people from all over from government and that was a that's a big honor for me. And there's inside there they have a plaque of a picture my parents went to the to the Kentucky Derby in 1973. And that was the the picture that they used of my parents at the at the Derby of of of his life, that same one that's in that was in his obituary and and and the next papers and everything too but. But yeah, that's that was an honor there, too, to to have the Robert J Dressel Safe room. Cool. So I was proud of it.

Obviously, 50 years is a long time seemed like yesterday, 50 years ago. I mean it was turning point time because this area. How do you think the community responded and you, being a firefighter, haven't been with the fire department for a long, long time? Is this community ready? Yes, I think so. I I tell you what. I pride myself, yeah, you know, I said I told you a minute ago. I've been Fire Chief for 33 years. I've been a firefighter over 50 years. I I was involved with my father. He he started on the fire department right after it started. He wasn't on the first ones. It was, he's a 1957. Our fire fire department started. He started after that. And. We started since I took over. We started a lot of things in the county and and and because they were this event, we started the Chief’s association in 1920, or 1993, which is where the fire departments got together. we pulled in our resources and our readiness. Our man equipment whatever and and where we have a fire or we'll go to our neighbors and we'll help them. If we have a fire they will come here and that's just something that we created you know over the years because of that not just that but the 9/11 also that that created a lot of it also from just from that. But as far as the safe safety, I I think we're our our guys when when I took over my philosophy was. was was a scenario type situation. I would, I would say here's the here's the what we have. Show me what you have to do to to take care of the situation if it's if it's a car wreck or if it's a search and rescue or of structure fire and then when we come back. We say, OK, here's what we did right, here's what we did wrong. Do it again. Everybody on department could be a command officer, they could do all. Everything that we had, they could do it all. And I pride myself on that. There's a lot of departments that do that, but. I think it's come along the way that the fire service and the sad thing about it though is this is a Volunteer Fire service and and the younger people nowadays, they're not getting off the couch like they should to volunteer. That's our issue. And as far as the one we have now, we're tough. Yeah, we're tough. But the ones coming up, I don't know. I can't answer that, yeah.

Well I guess only time will tell. Final thoughts, I know Ronny’s gotta go.  Final thoughts on what this anniversary means to you? Well, it just like I said. It. The wounds were rough for a long time and they're still there. They're noticeable and I don’t know. I know that I will be with my parents someday and and and and I don't wish any kind of. Tragedy on anybody like that. And I'm just thankful that I that I had my parents, my grandparents to give me the. Knowledge. The fortitude of things that I’ve done You know, I'm appreciative of that. I want my grandkids, my kids to to do the same thing, pass it on because the world. It’s a rough place right now and we need. We need help. That’s why were here. We need family to stick together.  We need people to come down and join fire department. You need people join lions clubs and and I think you need to get the younger generation involved and. I don't know. I just, I just, I I have hope for the future. I have hope.

 Well it’s stories like where you're sharing today that you know, I think you go long ways to gain the new generation. Perhaps just a matter of time. I hope so. The wreck on the bridge. Open up the door for them for recruiting because because they had the same behind that went off the bridge and now they have recruitment going out there and that that gets people involved. They see when, when, when good things happen with with with your education and your your your experience. That they want to do that too. right. Well my friend, we’re going to get him out of here. So. Appreciate it. Appreciate it..

-Jeremy Kappell

Meteorologist, Journalist, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster

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