For someone about to turn 23, it's often said that “his whole life is ahead of him.”
With tornadic chaos around him, Wayne State College senior Sam Kaschke thought the opposite — that his whole life might be behind him.
“Two-by-fours were flying past me and windows were shattering,” he said. “I honestly thought, 'I'm going to die today.' ”
A criminal justice major from Pierce, Neb., 26 miles to the west of Wayne, Sam got out of his last class, marketing, at 2 p.m. Friday.
For a year and a half, he has lived in an old farmhouse three miles southwest of town with three Wayne classmates. The friends were leaving for the weekend, but Sam took a nap in advance of a 12-hour shift as a hospital security guard that was to start at 8 p.m. at Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk.
About 5:30 p.m., alone in the two-story frame home, he was awakened in his second-floor bedroom by a thunderous thump, as if someone was pounding with a sledgehammer on an outside wall.
“The whole house was shaking,” Sam said. “I rolled out of bed, grabbed a comforter and wrapped it around me. I ran downstairs, and the front door was open, with two-by-fours flying within a couple of feet of me. Windows shattered as I ran past them.”
He made it to the basement, hiding behind a post and a brick wall, where he “watched the downstairs bathroom disappear.”
After a very long five minutes, Sam, 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, made his way out of the wreckage unharmed. Dazed, he collected himself and removed debris, carefully walking in his bare feet to avoid broken glass.
He found a pair of shoes and a shirt and ran a quarter-mile down the road — power lines were down everywhere — to check on an older neighbor. “She was fine.”
When he returned to the damaged farmhouse, he surveyed the scene. A large barn and a couple of sheds were gone, and cottonwood trees were down.
His 1998 Ford Taurus was badly damaged, though the engine started. His motorcycle, he said by phone Saturday, “looks like a pretzel.”
Northeast Nebraska is a part of the state that moviegoers will see when Omaha filmmaker Alexander Payne's “Nebraska” opens next month. This weekend, it got national attention for very nasty storms.
We all know that Nebraska sits in a Midwestern tornado alley, but the year's main cyclone season was past. Friday night's tornadoes were the first in October in Nebraska in 12 years.
Sam had remarked earlier about what a “gorgeous” fall day it was, though he knew a thunderstorm was possible. He didn't expect this.
Within a couple of hours after he survived, he met up with his parents, Greg and Angie Kaschke of Pierce. Greg works at the Great Dane Trailers plant in Wayne, and Angie is a nurse's aide at Faith Regional hospital.
Sam played football and baseball and ran track in high school, and plans to become a law enforcement officer. He knows that he will have to assist people in some of their most difficult times in life, and is glad he survived a harrowing, life-threatening experience.
His aunt, Heidi Kaschke of Omaha, said Sam is “the humorous one in the family, but he has a good head and uses good judgment.”
There was nothing funny about the storm that hit northeast Nebraska, but Sam immediately had the good judgment to get to the basement and get behind something solid.
He didn't make it to work Friday night at the hospital, but neither did he have to enter through the emergency room. “Everybody tells me I'm lucky to be alive.”
On Saturday, he was helping to clean up and looking for what possessions he could salvage.
He is staying at home with his parents for now, and will celebrate his birthday on Monday — probably, he said, with studying, family and pizza.
He'll also be preparing for his Tuesday class — emergency management.