Storm kills LCMS member, damages school

By Sarah Schafer

A storm that news sources are calling an “inland hurricane” struck southern Illinois May 8, killing George Arbiter, 87, a member of Immanuel Lutheran storm-1.gifChurch, Murphysboro, Ill., and causing an estimated $500,000 in damages at Christ Lutheran Church and School in Jacob, Ill.

Arbiter and his wife of 31 years, Grace, sought shelter in their basement during the storm. He walked up the stairs when a tree branch fell through a door at the top of the staircase and “catapulted him down the basement stairs,” where he hit his head on the concrete floor, according to Immanuel Pastor Theodore Mayes.

Mayes recalls Arbiter as an active man despite suffering the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He painted homes into his late 80s and looked forward to planting sweet corn in his garden. “He was a tireless worker for the church,” said Mayes. “We’re going to miss him greatly.” Grace now plans to live with her daughter.

At Christ Lutheran Church and School in Jacob, Ill., the storm ripped apart the school gymnasium, sending bricks and cinderblock flying across the playground behind it. A tree also fell on the roof of a classroom. Students and faculty found shelter in an inner storeroom during the storm, praying and singing hymns while 80 to 100 mile-per-hour winds swirled overhead for 15 to 20 minutes. No one was injured. The church steeple is twisted and the damaged roof has been temporarily patched with tarps.

With only a week left of school, Christ Lutheran administrators decided damages were too extensive to hold classes. The school had met state requirstorm-2.gifements, so classes were dismissed May 11 for the summer.

Upon visiting the affected churches May 11, Southern Illinois District President Herb Mueller was surprised by Christ Lutheran members who came to help with clean-up, despite not being called to help. After the church clean-up day May 13, Christ Lutheran Church President Alan Neuhaus said the tree was moved off the building and the debris from the gymnasium was picked up. “It’s a work in progress,” he said. “We’ve got a major project on our hands.” The buildings were insured and an initial adjustor estimated damages at $500,000.

In Carbondale, Ill., Our Savior Lutheran Church opened as a community shelter. The church is near the Southern Illinois University — Carbondale campus and has an active campus ministry.

District President Mueller called on congregations throughout the Southern Illinois District to collect door offerings this month to assist storm-damaged congregations. LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) awarded the Southern Illinois District a $2,500 emergency grant May 11 to help the congregations aid families in need. WR-HC Director of Disaster Response Rev. Glenn Merritt remains in contact with Mueller.

Prayers were foremost requested by Neuhaus and Mueller, but financial gifts also are being accepted. Donations marked “Southern Illinois Storm Relief” may be sent to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-4438. Donations are also accepted by phone at 888-930-4438 and online at

Sarah Schafer is a writer for LCMS World Relief and Human Care.

Posted May 15, 2009

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