RURAL STANTON COUNTY — Leonard Boryca was in a daze in the aftermath of the June 16, 2014, tornado that destroyed his home near Lake Maskenthine east of Norfolk.
His home was not just damaged. It was not just in a pile of rubble.
It was completely gone.
The structure and everything in it was nowhere to be found.
He spent the weeks following the tornado searching. He was searching for something, anything from his home where he had lived since.
“All I had left was what I had on my back,” he said.
At one point, a colleague called him and Boryca told him he was searching for one thing.
They asked him what exactly he was searching for, Boryca recalled.
“No, I’m searching for one thing,” he said with his index finger up. “I was just searching for something that was mine, something I could hold onto.”
The storm began on the afternoon of June 16. Boryca said he could tell around 2 p.m. that the weather was worsening, and eventually he took refuge with another Lower Elkhorn NRD employee.
Boryca said he looked up and saw the sky; the entire house had been lifted away. Many of his animals were dead, and the few that survived initially died not long after. Dozens of trees had been lifted out of the ground.
Boryca said he doesn’t remember much from the hours and days immediately following the storm.
“I think it was too much for me to handle,” he said. “So I don’t remember a lot from the first few weeks after.”
He said the emotional and mental impact has been difficult to deal with, thinking about the day of the tornado every day since it happened.
But with the support of friends, family and colleagues, he’s been able to move on as best as he can, he said.
The cleanup began immediately after and has continued for five years, Boryca said. Some areas around Lake Maskenthine still haven’t been thoroughly searched, and there may be debris around.
Boryca’s house was rebuilt not far from where it originally stood. The house sits on land where a wood pile was on the day of the storm.
“(The tornado) had lifted tons of trees like toothpicks, but that pile was untouched,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, that’s where the house is going to go, obviously.’ ”
The many tons of debris were either buried and taken away. Many of Boryca’s animals had to be buried as well.
An NRD shop is also on the property, and it, too, was destroyed. The shop and Boryca’s home were rebuilt over the next several months after the tornado.
The home is equipped with a tornado shelter, and in there is where Boryca keeps his valued possessions. He’s not going to let anything carry away his things again.
“I may not get to see them as much,” he said. “But I know if it ever happens again, they will be safe.”
Boryca said one of the reasons he continues to live on the same property is because he hopes eventually more things that went missing in the tornado will eventually be found.
“I’m hoping someday someone out there will come across something they don’t recognize and ask me, ‘Hey, is this yours?’ ” Boryca said.
While the search goes on, Boryca has found one thing.
A few days after the tornado, on the eighth hole of a golf course in Le Mars, Iowa, more than 100 miles from Boryca’s home, a golfer found a slightly torn photo and had no idea who it belonged to.
It wasn’t intact, but it was largely spared. The bottom right corner was torn off, but it didn’t cut off any of the important details.
A Facebook post with the photo eventually caught the attention of Boryca and it made its way home.
It was one photograph, damaged and 100 miles away, but Boryca finally found something.
Boryca would come to find a few more things over the years. He found a medallion from his college graduation. Boryca said he still finds loose change, coins that were laying around the house the day of the tornado, in the grass around the property.
Most of his belongings carried away by the tornado are still missing, he said. But he still has the one photo and its special meaning.
The photo, taken some time in 1988 by Boryca’s estimation, features his grandmother, Anna Urkoski, along with his grandfather and three nephews. The five are all laughing and smiling, probably celebrating one of the kids’ birthdays that day, Boryca said.
Boryca said he thinks it’s hardly a coincidence a photo with his grandmother survived.
“She was such a hard worker and devoted to her family,” Boryca said. “She is my inspiration. I think it was fitting that this was the one picture that survived.”