Being acutely aware of the weather is just one part of the John Deere Corporate Aviation team’s job. But on May 20, 2013, Mother Nature surprised everyone and brought the aviation team, C&F employees, a dealer and a customer together.
Steve Decker, Vice President of Marketing, and John Willis, Equipment Advisor, for CL Boyd were on their way to meetings at the Deere & Co. World Headquarters in Moline, Ill. Also with them were Steve Shawn, Silver Star Construction President, and Louis Cossey, Equipment Manager. CL Boyd is a John Deere C&F equipment dealer located in Oklahoma City. Silver Star Construction provides construction services to developments and roads and is located in the nearby suburb of Moore, Okla.
The group arrived in Chicago the afternoon of May 20 to make their final flight connection to Moline. And, that’s when their plans quickly changed, which set off a series of quick thinking actions by Deere employees.
“We were at O’Hare making the connection to Moline when we first learned of the weather threat back home,” recalled Decker. “We started watching the live news feed on our phones, and as our flight started to taxi for takeoff, we saw the funnel drop.” A few minutes later, the feed was lost.
The short flight from Chicago to Moline seemed endless, and when the nervous group finally landed at the Quad City International Airport and cell phone service was restored, they discovered the city of Moore had taken a direct hit. Instantly, the men knew they had to return to Oklahoma. After exploring their options, they decided they could rent a car and either make the 700-mile trip home or drive back to Chicago and attempt a flight home the following morning.
“Neither were good options given the urgency of the situation,” noted Decker. “So I decided to call Deere to see if they could help.”
Decker’s first call was to Mark Germain, Director of Customer and Product Support. Germain called Domenic Ruccolo, Senior Vice President, Worldwide C&F Sales and Marketing, who secured the approval to use a company plane. The Deere aviation team quickly made preparations for take-off.
“We’re forever grateful to Mark, Domenic, Sam Allen [Deere & Co. Chairman and CEO], pilots Jeremy Scales and Ben Forest and the entire John Deere Corporate Aviation team for getting us back home so quickly,” says Decker. “What they did for us matters to more people than they’ll ever know.”
Shawn agrees, “This sort of commitment is what sets Deere apart from its competitors.”
Ninety minutes after taking off from Moline, the group was flying into Oklahoma. As they descended, the sight was unimaginable. “We saw the tornado’s path and the size of the area that had been hit,” recalled Decker. “We saw what seemed like an endless line of emergency lights and miles of traffic gridlock in every direction. We saw empty lots where homes and businesses used to stand. It was a scene none of us will ever forget.”
CL Boyd and Silver Star Construction employees living in the area were alright. Silver Star’s office was also safe. However, the tornado killed 24 people, including seven students from Plaza Towers Elementary School.
During the following days, crews from Silver Star began working to clear the roads of debris so emergency responders could navigate their way through the area. It was estimated that 150,000 total tons of debris needed to be removed. A number of Deere machines were involved with the cleanup effort. Silver Star’s three four-wheel-drive loaders and a backhoe were instrumental in clearing the streets in those crucial first days after the tragedy. Smaller commercial worksite product equipment was used to push debris to the curb, and excavators were also in demand.
During a visit to Moore in late July, city of Moore representatives and Shawn presented a plaque to Ruccolo; Mike Mack, President, Worldwide Construction & Forestry Division; and others from the C&F Division for John Deere’s assistance during the aftermath of the May 20th tornado. The plaque also has a fire fighter’s helmet, which is signed by the Moore first responders. “It was an honor, but also extremely humbling to receive such a touching recognition, especially one signed by the true heroes of that tragic event,” said Ruccolo.
Upon returning to Moline, Ruccolo decided that the plaque should be kept by the John Deere Aviation team to recognize their efforts and assistance. “Larrie Dahl and the entire Aviation team did an incredible job in returning our customers home that day so quickly,” said Ruccolo.