The Coburns: You Cannot Control the Wind, but You Can Adjust the Sails


This year’s Indian Lake Schools E+R=O theme is “You Cannot Control the Wind, but You Can Adjust the Sails.”

That concept has never been truer in the school and community.

This is the story of ILHS Assistant Principal Mr. Dave Coburn and ILHS/OHP Business Teacher Mrs. Lisa Coburn.

The Coburns were in Wapak having dinner with friends when the tornado alerts began. On their way home, they encountered the edge of the storm damage and blocked roads that rerouted them out in the country, but they had no idea of the destruction that lay ahead.

“It was crazy. The power was all out in Lakeview, but the gas station was all lit up in Russells Point,” Dave said. “We didn’t know at that point what people were seeing or why people were scrambling around– because they had seen what we hadn’t seen yet.”

The road to their Orchard Island home was obstructed by a felled tree at Holiday Harbor, so they decided to go help at Indian Lake High School where Superintendent Rob Underwood was organizing a temporary shelter and triage center.

Lisa was on the phone with their son Chase, who was safe in a friend’s Waterbury home. He was worried about their dog and cat. Lisa recalled, “I think (State Route) 274 was flooded and then there was just trees and debris. I said, ‘you’re safe, stay put for now."”

They helped at ILHS until midnight, then picked up Chase and made their way toward Orchard Island where they abandoned their car and walked to the top of the bridge.
“Even though the power was out, there was still a lightning show, so you could see the flash of the light and the silhouette of everything. We could see the boats in the trees, boats upside down, trees down. But we could see our house was still standing,” Dave said.

They waited on the bridge with hope for several hours while downed power lines and busted gas lines were turned off for safety purposes. That’s when retired Washington Township Police Chief Rick Core, who had responded as a law enforcement volunteer, agreed to take them back to their neighborhood.

“We saw mobile homes flipped upside down and we were like, whoa! Some of those mobile homes were crushed, disintegrated,” Lisa said.

Then they got to their own home of 26 years. What they could not see from the bridge was that the entire front of the house was crushed by a giant cottonwood tree.
“The base of the tree fell on the house, so the front of the tree was blocking the entrance,” Dave explained. “So we climbed through the tree to get in the front door…We busted our way in the front door and all of a sudden Molly (the dog) came running down the steps.”

Their cat was ok, too. But the structure was destroyed by a combination of the tree, wind, and rain.

They grabbed their animals and essentials and made their way to Lisa’s sister’s house for the night. But they were up early the next day.

“In daylight, it was a war zone,” Dave said.

Lisa continued, “Anywhere you looked was destruction. If you looked straight down, there’s debris and insulation and glass. You look up and there’s metal in the trees. I couldn’t even process it. There was so much devastation everywhere.”

“The tornado had gone over the water, so every place around here looked like it was sprayed with a mixture of mud, insulation, and lake water. It looked like fur,” Dave recalled.

Right now, the Coburns are working through the process with their insurance company, which declared their home a total loss. They are living temporarily in a lake home that belongs to an ILHS alum. They plan to move to an AirBnB on northern Orchard Island once minor repairs on it are complete. That way they will be close as they rebuild a new home on the same spot as soon as possible.

Both are back to school, as well, helping students come to terms with what the tornado left behind.

“In the grand scheme of things, we’re way better off than a lot of people. I feel guilty on one hand, but so thankful on the other.” Dave said he’s glad to see The Lake Effect–a concept concentrating on resilience taught at ILHS–in action.

“It’s great to see the community rally around each other. It’s crazy how it brings us all together. ”