Fairdale residents look to rebuild; White Sox donate to relief

By Hannah Beery

Tornado survivor Tom Marston saw his small farm town of Fairdale, Illinois demolished by an EF-4 tornado last month.

“If you had seen what I’d seen, we’re lucky to be alive, ” he said this week.

Now, he and other residents of the town 80 miles west of Chicago have finished the cleanup stage and have begun the daunting rebuilding process.

“Everyone has heard about it and then you kind of forget naturally just because it’s not on the top of your mind,” said Erin Robertson, co-founder of tornado relief non-profit High Socks for Hope. “But the people are dealing with it day in and day out, often times years, because it takes that long to clean up and rebuild, especially some of the lower income towns and cities.”

Erin Robertson and her husband David – a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox — started High Socks for Hope after a devastating tornado struck David’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2011. Since then, the non-profit has assisted in rebuilding towns destroyed by tornados in Oklahoma, Texas, New York and now Illinois, according to Erin.

“It’s just devastating when they’ve lost their homes and in some cases their livelihoods,” said Chicago White Sox Charities executive director, Christine O’Reilly. “Their farms are gone and so when you think about how do you begin and where do you begin to pick up the pieces, it’s a little bit overwhelming.”

Five families took a break from this horrifying reality earlier this week when the White Sox hosted a Mother’s Day pre-game ceremony and presented High Socks for Hope with a $15,000 check for Fairdale relief.

high socks for hope check presentation
O’Reilly presents check to High Socks for Hope in pre game ceremony on May 10. L to R, David and Erin Robertson, Christine O’Reilly, Judy Holland, Fairdale tonado victims. (Hannah Beery/Medill)

The small community, an hour and a half away from U.S. Cellular Field, is “a long way from being back to normal,” Erin Robertson said. “We’re going to try and help raise as much money as we can to get those people there sooner and maybe back into a house.”

Initial relief efforts by High Socks for Hope included cooking and delivering 700 meals a day to Fairdale and nearby Rochelle, said Judy Holland, managing director for the organization.

“As time goes on you look around and everybody is gone, and its time for them to rebuild, and they don’t have any help,” Holland said. “So that’s why I like to say just like David is the closer for the game, he’s the closer for the natural disasters.”

Once new homes are built, the non-profit will continue its relief efforts by completely furnishing the homes. On Monday, the day after a ceremony at Cellular Field to present the cash contribution to High Socks for Hope, they were already buying one family a stove, but that was just the beginning.

“What we’ve found in every community we have helped and are helping, and especially in Fairdale, everybody comes together and is all united in this case, so that’s the one silver lining in all of this,” Erin Robertson said.

White Sox Charities paid for the five Fairdale families to travel to and from U.S. Cellular Field for the May 10th ceremonies, and gave them tickets to the game and money to spend in the park, O’Reilly said.

“We have to remember that even though some people are struggling and going through some tough times,” O’Reilly said. “If we can just give them an experience at the ballpark that just takes their mind off their struggles for three hours then everybody is better for it.”

Two people from the town of about 150 died from the devastating storm. Marston and his girlfriend, Deena Schell, said they lost everything except the clothes they were wearing that day.

“I just want to watch the White Sox win the game today and I’m trying to move on,” Marston said. “It’s hard but you know what? I just thank God that we’re alive.”

While the stands lacked many guests during the pregame ceremony, over 20,000 spectators watched the White Sox win the game, 4-3. David Robertson did not pitch.

Photo at top: White Sox pitcher David Robertson with Fairdale tornado victims Sunday, May 10 (Hannah Beery/Medill)