A First Resource: Flood Survivors Fondly Recall Salvation Army Efforts

Mar 20, 2024 | by Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

When the Flood of 2019 hit, thousands of people saw their lifetimes of possessions and memories float away.

In the wake of such devastation, relief came to southwest Iowa when citizens heard one voice from one organization that spoke up and pledged its support at a packed town hall meeting.

“Major Donna (Miller) got up with her big loud voice and said, ‘We will not let you down,’” said David Lueth, a farmer living near Percival, Iowa, who is also an elected township trustee and flood survivor. “She mentioned the programs that were available, where to get them.”

That support started a relationship with The Salvation Army for many people -- and also offered hope to many feeling hopeless at that very moment. Not long before that Percival town hall meeting, a ‘bomb cyclone’ weather event had dumped heavy rain, then snow, across the Nebraska-Iowa-South Dakota area, combining with other meteorological conditions to spark one of the worst flooding events ever seen in the Midwest.

In the wake of the flood, Maj. Jesus Trejo and his family brought a Salvation Army team into the northeast Nebraska town of Verdigre to offer help. Then-mayor Leroy Hollmann was grateful to see them.

“They arrived late in the day, and I said just come up and spend the night, and you can see the people the next day,” said Hollmann, who had space at his home. “Because it’s always nice to know the people you’re going to introduce to your community.”

Homes, farms, parks, businesses — all were damaged. Hollmann said that in Verdigre, 49 businesses were affected and 56 houses were damaged significantly.

When the area flooded, it washed out roads and bridges in every direction, making it difficult for relief to reach those in need; Hollmann and Lueth both praised The Salvation Army for being there first, and staying to the end.

Back across the Missouri River, Maj. Miller recalled one family who had just closed on a new home in southwest Iowa the day before the floodwaters destroyed not only the new home, but also their recently sold house.

“This little 5-year-old girl, she didn’t understand,” Miller said. “She just kept asking, ‘Mommy, when can we go home?’ They lost everything.”

Many organizations – the Salvation Army included – helped flood survivors by distributing material goods like food, potable water, and flood-cleanup kits, but Maj. Miller and Maj. Trejo also attended to the spiritual and emotional needs of the people -- listening to, and praying with, them. This aspect of the relief operation was appreciated by Lueth, Hollmann, and the townspeople they served.

Major Miller retired in 2023, but has stayed in southwest Iowa to preach at the Percival Community Church. Major Trejo has remained in contact with the people of Verdigre, and Hollmann said he was most impressed by The Salvation Army’s attention to following through, even after many relief organizations left the area.

“Keep on man, you’re leading the pack in social service. You lead by example, and keep going. The Salvation Army … really cares about the people,” Hollmann said.

Five years after the flood, Lueth said people in his community still talk about how the Salvation Army was “number one” in providing help to those affected.

Hollmann and Lueth both said the people in their towns are grateful to The Salvation Army, and that at Christmastime, they drop money into every red kettle they pass, as the organization means more to the people of Verdigre and Percival now than ever before.

Recent Stories

Related Content: 2019 Flood