The family of 21-year-old Lake Township resident Gerald Lathrop wondered where he was when he did not show up for his birthday or when they got together for Easter.
That’s because Gerald is at the cemetery visiting the grave of his former girlfriend, Bailey Bowman, on important occasions.
Last June 5, Gerald and Bailey were traveling along State Route 795 heading towards his parents’ home on Luckey Road. They never got there.
Before reaching the home, a Category EF4 tornado swept up both Bowman and Lathrop, and Bowman did not survive.
|BaileyRae is memorialized with Gerald's tatoo.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
“The holidays roll buy and it’s hard for him,” said Gerald’s father, Kirk Lathrop. “For instance, Easter, he came up missing and we didn’t know what happened. We had people here and everything. He ended up over at the cemetery for a couple hours. On his birthday, he turned 21 on May 6, we had dinner plans and he came home from work, and went missing again, went over to the cemetery again and didn’t want to go out to eat.”
Gerald explains, “It’s been rough. I miss Bailey — everything is a first, you know. It was the first birthday without her. I didn’t even go do anything on my 21st birthday because it was just too hard. I didn’t do anything — I didn’t go to dinner. A lot of the first-time things are hard to do.”
Gerald has had her name, Bailey Rae, tattooed on his arm along with a cross and dates of her birth and death. He plans to add an angel, and wishes he could have the name corrected because the artist spelled it wrong.
Gerald is the recipient of Hope Builds — a coalition of Lake Township churches that have plans to build two new homes for township families who saw their lives destroyed by the tornado.
In bedrock, an 1,110 square foot basement was constructed under the Lathrop family home north of Stony Ridge. Kirk estimates the improvement would have cost $60,000, but much of the labor was donated.
“My son and I worked hand-in-hand with them through the winter to make this all possible. The fall is a hard time to excavate or dig because it goes back to the wet season, but we got through it. We basically ended up with an apartment-style area down here minus a kitchen,” Kirk said.
“There was a lot of labor that we contributed ourselves, too. For a project like this, I believe that going down and adding 1,100 square feet to a home, you don’t have to buy windows and your insulation factor is completely different, and you don’t have to put a roof on it. There is no air conditioning down here, and we had 87 degrees already this year and it stayed at 70.”
Gerald added, “It’s nice. Wonderful. It’s nice to have a nice, safe place to go when it’s storming and it’s nice to have our own place in general.”
For Gerald and Bailey’s 3-year-old son Gerald Jr., who shares his dad’s apartment, it has not been easy, either.
“We’ve kept the memory alive. We did seek a little bit of professional help with him early on because he was lashing out and having some personal issues,” Kirk said. “He ended up getting through it for the most part.
“He still misses his mom. He’s too young to understand her death is permanent and he comes up with little things. Last summer, his dad would buy him balloons and they would release them to heaven in the evening, and he thought that was cool. For Christmas, he thought he wanted an airplane, but ‘Daddy, I don’t want a little airplane. I need a big one that you and I can get in so we can get Mommy.’ His vision is that she’s up there and I need to get to her.
“One of the older kids from (church) was trying to explain to him that someday you will be dead, and then you can go to heaven. So he’s talked about getting big someday and then dying so he can go to heaven. What do you do? With a mind that small, they think of all sorts of things that make sense to them.”
The Hope Builds Campaign is still seeking funds to finish a home on the corner of Schreiber Street and Moline-Martin Road and the Lathrop home..
Genoa Banking Company President Marty Sutter says about $40,000 sits in the account. It has been a learning process, said Pastor Bob Noble, spokesman for Hopes Builds.
“We’re still getting the funds together to build both of those houses,” said Pastor Noble. “One of the things that have happened because of the tornado is that the Lake Township churches have really come together and we’re working on so many different things for the community — stuff that we’ve never done before. That part of it is certainly exciting.
“Part of the challenge for the homes is we underestimated a couple things. None of us have ever tried to do anything like this before. I think as pastors we underestimated all that was going to go into the building of a house. We don’t have carpenters come and preach our sermon. Everybody is called to a certain thing.”
Meanwhile, the family who lost their home on Schreiber Street continues to wait.
“They’re doing well. They are getting a little antsy just like we are,” Pastor Noble said. “We want to put this project to bed and be done with it and go on with new stuff. We have new issues cropping up everywhere in the community that need our attention, too.”
Anyone interested can contact Pastor Noble at 419-836-8986 or make donations at any GenoaBank branch.
Sutter noted that it isn’t just families that have had to rebuild. At least four businesses along 795 suffered damage, and a Mexican restaurant sits near the rebuilt Lake Township Administration Building still looking like it did after the tornado hit. Since, some businesses have either reopened or gotten back to full capacity, Sutter said.
“That’s a piece that nobody’s talked about,” Sutter said. “Everybody’s concerned about the individuals and homeowners and the school, but we shouldn’t forget there were a lot of businesses impacted over there. They are reopened and doing well.”