PEKIN — On the front porch of her home by Jordan Lake in Pekin, Donna Kaelin has always had a ritual. In the mornings, she and her partner Will Callahan would grab cups of coffee, sit outside and take in the world.
But last summer, things were different. Not as many yellow finches or hummingbirds flew through her yard. More importantly, her companion of 10 years had a hard time joining her on the veranda to watch the birds that did visit. He was still healing from the injuries he sustained in the deadly March 2, 2012, tornadoes that tore through their quiet town.
Due to Callahan’s brave act that day, Kaelin had survived the destruction to her daughter’s Daisy Hill home where she had taken refuge. Using his own body as a shield, Callahan covered Kaelin, her daughter and grandchildren, and neighbor Marilyn Jackson and effectively blocked the flying debris from hitting them.
“I don’t consider myself a hero. It’s just something you don’t think about doing until something happens like this,” Callahan said.
He, though, wasn’t quite so lucky. Cinder blocks from an old flue fell on him during the EF-4 tornado, crushing his leg. Initially, doctors wanted to amputate it, but he asked them to give it one last shot. They did and his leg was spared. More than 10 surgeries later, he’s recently been able to get around with only the use of a cane.
“It tickles him that he’s advanced that much. He’s looking forward to the warm weather,” she said.
In February, the couple journeyed back to her daughter’s damaged house. Her daughter has since moved off the hill and has placed the property up for sale. She said the emotions of that day returned upon seeing the remnants of the home.