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A brief tribute to Jackie Arnold

I used to get called out of class in high school by one of the school’s counselors, Jackie Arnold. She’d send a messenger down the hall to deliver a little yellow or blue slip to a teacher, usually Jeanne Bedwell since, as Mrs. Arnold would later tell me, “I know you can afford to miss a little of that [English] class and won’t be worse for wear.” The slips usually jus said, “Please come see me — JA.”

Walking down the halls I’d slip into her small, white office at a chair angled neatly before her desk. She’d still be staring 90 degrees in the other direction at her computer, finish typing her sentence, then slightly put her hands and arms up before resting them on her desk mid-swivel. Then, with a big grin, she’d say, “How the hell do I do this?”

In what became a comically frequent routine at least a couple times a month, she’d waltz me into her office to ask about how something in Microsoft Frontpage worked, or later how to make some graphic thing work in Macromedia Fireworks or Freehand. At one point she was working on what would become the school district’s logo for what must have been a decade: the top of the Washington County Courthouse with a bunch of swirling effects elegantly wrapping around the word “Salem”. She just wanted to know what I thought of it. Few people knew it, but rather than drawing the swirling bands of color and light, she simply typed out the letter “Q” in a text box and “smushed and dragged it in all directions.”

Tragically, dementia or another degenerative mental disease has taken its toll on her. She was incredibly helpful to me when navigating college admissions and I learned of her illness when it became very late stage. I may be misremembering, but I think she put me on to the idea that IUPUI even existed. She was also intuitively keen to support my developing design interests.

Before she was a high school counselor, she was a reporter for the Salem Leader back when Cecil Smith was the editor. I feel like I remember that, but had completely forgotten about it until several weeks ago when I visited Salem to dig up old newspapers from March 1925.

As I’ve been wrapping up research on my Tri-State Tornado book, it became clear the storm that is the subject of my book also dropped a tornado in Washington County, 75 miles after the initial Tri-State funnel evaporated.

Knowing there was probably a brief clipping about it, I wanted a source, if only to mention it in passing because of my hometown connection.

Digging through a stack of newspaper clippings at the Washington County Historical Society about every tornado that’s ever touched down there over the years, a stack of stories from the late 80s surfaced. One had a compelling opening about damage in Martinsburg, Indiana:

The tornado, which hit the small Washington County town in mid-afternoon, left in its wake a mass of debris, uprooted trees, lumber, glass, and demolished autos, strewn among the skeletons and foundations of buildings that once stood in Martinsburg.

“That’s pretty good. Not often newspaper reports about disasters try to open with that kind of prose and flourish,” I thought.

I checked the byline and there it was: by Jackie Arnold, Leader-Democrat Staff Writer. I had remembered that I used to remember she was a reporter at one point in her career.

I tucked the opening text away in my notes and moved on to get toward stories from 60 years earlier.

My book is roughly divided into two parts: the storm and its damage, then the recovery and rebuilding. It seemed fitting to me that the end of the first part should borrow liberally from her random opening stanza in a newspaper story she probably never thought about more than a week after she wrote it. But, uncovered in that fat folder of random clippings, it, like her, left a mark on me. I’ve repurposed it for my book:

For over three and a half hours, this storm’s mix of tumbling cool and warm air, moisture, evaporation, pressure differences, and wind speed lined up in a once-in-a-generation duration stretching 219 miles. The Tri-State Tornado had changed its camouflage from a foggy battleship gray to a patchy muddy brown as it passed over land until 4:30 p.m. when, near the sleepy outpost of Outsville, Indiana, the tornado struck one last house, then lifted away like a great spirit into the sky. The tornado was gone, leaving in its wake a mass of debris, uprooted trees, lumber, glass, and demolished autos, strewn among the skeletons and foundations of bodies and livelihoods.


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About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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