- Associated Press - Friday, April 4, 2014

LIGONIER, Ind. (AP) - The deadly tornado outbreak of April 3, 1974, hit hard in western Noble County.

A powerful twister struck Perry Elementary School on the far north side of Ligonier and the Monsanto factory in the city’s industrial park, a couple miles south of the school.

Rick Keim was principal of the elementary school on that fateful day and still remembers the terrifying impact it had on the community.

“I was at home - we were living in Millersburg at the time - and I was working outside and remember seeing the sky getting a real strange color of green,” Keim told The News-Sun (http://bit.ly/1fGeeim ).

“I got a phone call that the school had been hit,” he said. “Our janitor, Jake Mast, was at the school with a bunch of basketball players and had been watching the weather.”

Keim and others credit Mast, who moved away from the area several years ago, with saving lives at the school on that spring day.

“When the winds picked up, Jake got everyone in the locker rooms, which were under the stage. Luckily, that’s where everyone was when the tornado hit the school building,” Keim said.

“When they came out, the roof was gone off the gym and a wall had collapsed. Throughout the building, the force of the winds blew out every single window in the school. The desks were scattered, and in some of the rooms, the force pulled books out of the desks.”

Even though several dozen people were in the gym, no one was injured.

The tornado struck at dusk, and by the time Keim and others gathered at the scene, darkness had started to fall.

“It was quite a shock,” Keim said. “That evening we went out there to check on everything, and the next day, in daylight, we could see just how bad of shape everything was in. The National Guard was dispatched to the school and was on the scene. That was interesting to see these guys walking around with their M-16s.”

The school was a total loss, forcing Keim and others to make decisions on how and where to finish the school year. They got lucky.

“At the time, one wing of the new West Noble High School was finished but not being used,” he recalled. “So there were six rooms out there we could use. We finished the school year out at the high school.”

Students, teachers and others went through the battered Perry school and salvaged as many materials as they could.

Perry Elementary School was rebuilt in time for the following school year.

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