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The Wichita Eagle from Wichita, Kansas • Page 16
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The Wichita Eagle from Wichita, Kansas • Page 16

The Wichita Eaglei
Wichita, Kansas
Issue Date:
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I6A THE WICHITA IASU AND BEACON Sunday Jan 25 1971 They Looked Forward to That Fateful Cruise Till: IWYTHI SANK up Norris and Aria Weiss good friends of the Jepsons The first load of Whippoorwill crew members left the Vassar Playhouse area at the same time They would prepare the boat for passengers get it ready to sail Veda Rogers was still at work on the books Brace Rogers who had moved a stack of 3000 bricks earlier was tired and running a little late He liked to go with the first load to the boat but he had missed the van Tragedy Brought Them Together Everything had From Page 1 Then there were the usual chores to tend to Wind had kept business down the last few days Looked like it would today too Lynn Vogel's plane landed in Topeka at 9 am He had come from Chicago to spend the day with his parents Rev Milton and Grace Vogel It was their 40th wedding Veda and Brace Rogers hirit Sheriff Robert Blasters arrived home from the Topeka shopping trip Along the way he had hit a hole in the road kicking a rock into his muffler The car rambled and he knew he would have to work on it that night It had been a quiet day at the sheriffs office in Lyndon when Deputy Sheriff Bill Tillman 24 arrived on duty at 5 pm He expected more of the same come together so quickly that the Whippom ill teas ahead by 10 minutes anniversary They were delighted he came They hadn't Been Lynn since a Christmas visit in Chicago Where he teaches public policy and social work at the University of Chicago He would tp in town Saturday join them for a showboat cruise at Pomona Lake that night then fly home Sunday They would be Joined by the Vogels' daughter Sandra Wright 32 and her children Melissa I and Allen 6 Melissa and Allen were frequent visitors to their grandparents home but Sandra was busy much of the time and Lynn far away Rev Vogel 65 and Grace 67 marveled at their good life together and at how nice it was to have their family together for the day As Lynn Vogel's plane touched down in Topeka die Vassar Playhouse came to life The large red barn-shaped building a mile south of Pomona Lake resounded with the young voices of the Lakeside Players fresh into rehearsal of the melodrama Lynne" The play would open July 5 following the monthlong run of on the Rehearsal was a pleasant time for the high school and college students who formed the company A time to practice their craft Much of the rest of the day would be spent on chores Veda and Bruce Rogers owners of the playhouse and showboat were poring over the books preparing an application for a loan (to help finance expansion of the grounds They were planning to open Vassar Junction consisting of the playhouse surrounded by renovated railroad cars by May Bruce Rogers left his wife with the books and began to work on the west set of tracks getting them ready for the cars The Vogels left their home at 5 pm with Sandra Wright and her children Just before they left Melissa stopped the family to show off her new blue slacks and white top Bill Shelton and Bobbi Hillgren ran into rain on their trip A small thundercloud about a mile wide led the way down the road They hoped the cruise wouldn't be canceled Those in the Jepsons' car saw it too The Hodges hoped the cruise was still on The Vogels talked about the weather too as they headed down US-75 out of Topeka They too saw the thundercloud The main concern in the Nelson car was how to get to the lake Directions they had been given were fuzzy and they found themselves wandering rustic roads hunting for the park entrance They wondered if they would make the boat on time But at 5:55 pm they drove up the Vassar Playhouse drive and turned into the gravel parking lot They picked up their tickets at the box office Tonight's performance: at Sea" a spoof of 1930s musicals They parked on top of a hill and walked to the boat The Whippoorwill sat rocking gently at its berth White with red trim its double-decked top covered by a red and white striped canvas awning it looked stately under the cloud-patched sky The Nelsons faced a 30-minute wait before they could board so they sat at a picnic table near the boat Pam took pictures of the group with her camera They watched the clouds They watched other passengers arrive Bill Shelton and Bobbi Hillgren picked up their tickets at 6 pm They knew dinner was an hour away so they stopped at a restaurant outside the park for a candy bar The National Weather Service in Topeka now was reporting a line of thunderstorms in the area The strongest part of the line was in northeast Osage County near Pomona Lake No warning was issued because no condensation cloud had formed At their campsite on the lake Del Edwards' family sat down to a barbecue rib dinner Edwards felt the wind die the air cool It would be pleasant fishing on boat tonight he thought At 6:15 pm the severe storm center in Kansas City reported a line of heavy thunderstorms in the area with strong gusting winds and hail possible Bruce Rogers had been watching the weather all day An Air Force navigator for several years he had developed an acute consciousness for shifting weather conditions The Whippoorwill had been out in all kinds of weather In the worst water Rogers knew the flat-bottomed 25-ton boat had rocked only a little He was still running late Usually he arrived in time to greet passengers as they board take tickets and introduce the crew He wouldn't get there early enough for that He considered not going at all then rejected the idea At 6:30 pm crew members aboard the Whippoorwill unhooked the No Tresspassing sign across the gangway that led to the boat The Nelsons and Lists left their picnic table and walked aboard They were greeted by crew members and led up the outride stairs to the top deck They were seated at a table on the port side next to the ornately carved white railing Nelson sat with Pam to his right against the railing The Lists sat across At 6:45 the Hodges and Jepsons arrived with the Weisses aboard the they were told hope you have a good At the same time the six members of the cast left Vassar Playhouse with Bruce Rogers Piled into the yellow van they laughed and joked at Sea" was me of their favorites At 6:47 pm the Kansas City storm center issued a severe thunderstorm watch for parts of eastern Kansas including Osage County At 6:50 pm Sill Nelson and Bobbi Hillgren arrived Sandra Wright Grace Vogel at scene had hoped quietly with the family Two matter-of-fact people the Vogels kept their pleasure inside But they were excited about the Pomona Lake trip Rev Vogel knew the Whippoorwill's builder Rev Bill Hurtig He hoped to visit the boat's engineer that evening And Sandra Wright thought the showboat was a perfect way to cap a family celebration She was a leader Divorced five years ago she moved into a cooperative housing unit and this year became president of the co-op's association She taught music at Potwin and Stout elementary schools in Topeka and had enrolled in the master's program in business administration at Kansas University this year She Melissa and Allen formed a tight family unit after the divorce Osage County Sheriff Robert Masters like things quiet in his county He had seen enough trouble in his 30 years in the department: car wrecks plane wrecks and a train derailment in 1974 that had injured 47 persons He was off duty Saturday a day he and his wife Shirley like to go shopping in Topeka At 1:30 pm they climbed into the 1964 sedan and left their Burlingame Kan home for Topeka A deputy was on duty at the county office in Lyndon Kan 'irlfit The Nelsons and Mrs List continued shopping in the afternoon They bought clothes and Mike bought himself a swimsuit They bought Wallace List a shirt for Father's Day Earl Hodges took a walk with his grandson along a nearby lake while Loretta Hodges took a nap After heart surgery 15 months ago she tended to tire in the afternoons Bill Shelton headed to the YMCA field in north Topeka for his 2:30 softball game Shelton would knock out three base hits but his team St Andrews Presbyterian Church would lose its first game of the season It was hot windy and clear in Topeka Del Edwards felt the hot wind whip his face as Don McKay's pontoon boat scudded over Pomona Lake that afternoon The sun felt good From the water lines of campers could be seen on the tree-lined shore Tied to its barge stern out the Whippoorwill sat at peace protected from the wind by the cove ifCfV The Nelsons were running late Shopping had taken longer than planned and at 3:30 pm they found themselves hurrying to the List home to prepare for their trip Mike Nelson changed into dress slacks and shirt Pam put on a long brown dress with red print flowers Wallace List had planned to make the trip but he was tired after supervising landscape work all day David List Pam's brother said he was interested in going David would take his place Shortly before 5 pm the Nelsons David List and his mother Betty List climbed into Pam's new car and left for the lake iiit'U Bill Shelton showered and rested from the game picked up Bobbi Hillgren at her home 15 miles southwest of Topeka at the same time Earl and Loretta Hodges also left for the lake then in a car driven by Dick Jepson Jane Jepson went along They would stop and pick Mike Nelson Pam Nelson Melissa Wright Lawrence Stadel bright cheerful and energetic Hobbies like banjo playing and wood carving kept him busy They slept well after their long drive Friday They always slept well Pam Nelson had seen an ad in a newspaper for lawnchairs They would be perfect to sunbathe in this afternoon at her parents' home At 10:30 am Pam Mike and Betty List climbed into Pam's new car and slid into Topeka traffic Just over 5 feet tall slender with a long face highlighted by high cheekbones Pam was outgoing and liked to stay busy Shopping was one of her favorite ways to stay busy She and Mike had been married for 3'a years They moved into their Wichita home from Topeka two years ago on her birthday Mike was a sales representative for Barton Transfer and Storage in Wichita Pam liked her job in the foster care unit of the state's social and rehabilitative service office in Wichita At times it got her down but when she helped match the right child with the right parents it made her day She and her husband hoped one day to have kids of their own They had tried for a couple of years with no success But things were starting to look up Mike had undergone an operation and had just completed a series of shots aimed at improving their chances Also the Nelsons had just completed and mailed the paperwork required to start adoption proceedings Either way a child would be theirs soon Lynn Vogel and his sister Sandra Wright planned to surprise their parents with a new color TV The Vogels had an old black and white set Sandra enjoyed her own color set and thought her parents would like one too Lynn Vogel and his sister went shopping for the set at 11 am Rehearsal was over at the playhouse Now some of the players would dress up in costumes and drive into the park to promote upcoming productions The Lakeside Players a group of about 25 come from all over the country although most are from Kansas Sequestered at the playhouse for the summer cast and crew become like an extended family with Bruce and Veda Rogers as parents They support each other or they leave The Rogers would rather have people who get along on stage than talented prima donnas A tuna salad lunch followed rehearsal Players anticipated a heavy meal on the boat that night: pork chops in cider broccoli with lemon butter baked potato homemade French bread and chocolate cake Bill Shelton left the tennis meeting at 11 am and picked up a quick hamburger The Nelsons and Mrs List returned to the List home two yellow lawnchairs in tow They enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches So did Earl and Loretta Hodges at the home They all anticipated a heavy meal on the showboat that night When Lynn Vogel and Sandra Wright returned from their shopping trip they were treated to a dinner of ham beans potatoes and homemade bread prepared by Grace Vogel an avid co ok She had retired as a teacher at Harks School of Business in Topeka Rev Vogel a former secretary of the Kansas Council of Churches was a retired United Methodist minister Their anniversary was passing just as they They were led to the top deck and seated at the table for two in the stern on the starboard The Hodges were nearby The Vogels and Sandra Wright's family boarded the Whippoorwill soon after They were taken to the top and seated on the port railing near the front -s Sheriff Masters started to work on the car muffler Deputy Bill Tillman prepared to serve a warrant to an Overbrook Kan man north of Pomona Lake He was to deliver the man to Shawnee County authorities at the county line In the stern of the Whippoorwill Bill Shelton and Bobbi Hillgren talked excitedly about the cruise Shelton noticed some lightning off to the northeast He was surprised there were any small boats on the lake Nearby the Hodges chatted with the Jepsons and Weisses They noticed the clouds too but weren't worried They heard the boat would sail west The clouds were heading east Melissa Wright was excited about being on the boat Sitting at her table near the port railing she took in the scenery and studied the menu Like her fellow passengers she was hungry Down the table Pam Nelson had her brother David List take a picture of their group Then she put the camera back in her purse Fears about the weather ruining the cruise that had bothered some during their drive to the lake had faded Bruce Rogers looked over the passengers as he stood near the pilot house It was a large crowd Not a full one but a good one Forty-seven waited to be served and entertained The 13-member crew was working below to do that All looked ready to go Rogers gave the order to cast off It was 7 pm Everything had come together so quickly that the Whippoorwill sailed 10 minutes earlier than usual As the red stern wheel churned the water the Whippoorwill backed away from the barge arcing its stern toward the east shore of the cove to bring its bow pointing west Lawrence Stadel thought about the weather as he stood in the marina He was glad it had cooled down He worried by the clouds: They brought much-needed rain to the farm ers The lake was calm peaceful As the Whippoorwill chugged west Deputy Bill Tillman knocked on the door of the Overbrook man who was to be arrested His boss! Sheriff Masters worked on his car's muffle in Burlingame Del Edwards' sons John and Tim raced along the shore shouting that the Whippoorwill was leaving A it On the top deck passengers had a sense of joyous anticipation They were finally under way Stewards filled their glasses with ice offering a promise of the long-awaited meal The lake was calm and the clouds were heading the other way Melissa Wright slid some ice out of her glass with her fingers to eat it Her mothet quietly asked her to stop The tornado struck at 7:15 pm The Whippoorwill rolled over on the port side Among the dead: Melissa Wright Sandra Wright Grace Vogel Pam Nelson Norris Weiss Among the rescued: Mike Nelson Rev Vogel Allen Wright Betty List David List Dick Jepson Jane Jepson Bill Shelton Bruce Rogers Loretta Hodges Bobbi Hillgren helped revive Earl Hodges Lawrence Stadel Del Edwards and Don McKay were among the boaters who rescued passengers Iron the bottom of the upturned boat Stadel pulled two trapped survivors to safety from under the boat i 1 Osage County Sheriff Masters and Deputy Tillman coordinated rescue and search efforts far the next three days The final death toll was 16 7 The Whippoorwill sustained about $20006 damages The Rogerses whan officials have cleared of any Marne in the accident plan to have it back in operation by July 6 Down the sloped drive from the playhouse take a right onto K-268 then another right onto K-368 heading up the slope past the shingled roof of the playhouse Straight ahead another half a mile is the entrance to Vassar State Park Pay a dollar for a one day park permit and continue straight At the sign for a steamboat ride turn right and drive down the hill to the Lighthouse Bay Marina About 50 yards upshore chained to a bright red barge adorned by two wood planters the Whippoor- will rides the water Camped 150 yards upshore from the boat Saturday morning were Del and Joy Edwards and their sons John 5 and Tim 3 Edwards had arrived at 3 am driving up after getting 'off work at the Pepsi Cola plant in Ottawa Kan at 2 am He and the family try to go camping about three times a month during the warm weather 1 They were camped with Don McKay and his family McKay had a 24-foot Wahoo pontoon They would ride around in it after lunch and they planned to go Ashing in it after dinner It was 10:30 am when Edwards arose to greet the hot wind that bristled the camp- ground John and Tim sped off to play Edwards 35 settled into studying material for a correspondence course on command and con- trol procedures for an anti-aircraft missile He was a member of the Army National Guard Around the bend down at the marina Lawrence Stadel worked on the dock At 50 SLadel was tall muscular and fit He had been a farmer all his life until taking over the marina nine years ago He also had been a diver for the last 20 years The conservative fanning community around Stadel's hometown of Quenemo re-garded him as something of an oddity No farmer is supposed to spend so much time under water Farmers don't dive into lakes to help pull boats and bodies off the bottom Stadel though has helped pull 33 boats off bottom of Pomona Lake He once helped pull an airplane off the bottom of Lake Perry near Topeka And farmers don't wrestle bears but Stadel did that years ago when a circus came to town He won $10 by throwing the 400-pound animal to the ground He loved life under water loved salvage work He had never been in a position though to save anyone's life 1 Bill Shelton faced a busy day There was the meeting to discuss the upcoming tennis tour-) nament then a softball game in the after-noon then a trip to Pomona Lake with his girlfriend Bobbi Hillmer They had been dating since March Both liked the theater Bobbi had called the Vassar Playhouse Wednesday to make reservations on the 'Whippoorwill for Saturday She was lucky she was told There had been a cancelation They would make the cruise Bobbi 36 was an X-ray technician in Tope-ka and was trained in cardio-pulmonary re- suscitation An Arkansas couple would later appreciate the training i -itirit Earl Hodges 81 and his wife Loretta 72 drove nearly 400 miles to Topeka from their home in Mountain Hone Ark Friday night hadn't visited their son-in-law Dick Jepson and their daughter Jane for six months i And they wanted to get on the Pomona Lake Showboat Last year the Hodgeses couldn't get a reservation This time the Jepsons made reservations several weeks early The Hodgeses had grown up around lakes in Illinois and now lived near one in Arkansas -Earl ran a fishing resort until six years ago i Earl's health was always good At 81 friends swore he looked closer to 61 He was I.

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