VERDEL, Neb. — Finding U.S. flags inside the walls of a Verdel house during reconstruction after the epic March flooding event came as a surprise to everyone involved.
"We were amazed to find flags on one of the walls in the house after we tore off the plaster and wood lathes," Carvella Wickersham of Verdel said.
The house belonged to Wichersham’s mother, Susan Svatos. The day of the northeast Nebraska flooding, residents close to the Ponca Creek watched the rise of floodwater just one-half mile away.
Now three months later, a construction crew from Texas with ties to family in Verdigre traveled to the area to help with after-affects from the flooding. As the crew, including family and friends of Svatos, began tearing out the walls damaged from the flooding, they were amazed to find a very interesting wall. As they literally peeled the layers of newspaper off the walls, then wallpaper, they found U.S. flags. They were able to peel some of the fabric off, which was very fragile, and were amazed to find the colors of the flags were imprinted on the wood.
"We had no clue it was there and were certainly surprised to see the imprint on the wood," Wickersham said.
It was fairly common to use newspaper and wallpaper to insulate wood houses in those early years but the flags as the last layer was quite a surprise.
There were several flags used on one wall and the family retrieved all the imprinted wood pieces. Wickersham said people have even offered them money for the wood pieces. Only a small amount of fabric was saved and Svatos plans on framing it so it will hang inside the renovated house when she returns to her home.
The name Svatos may be familiar to many as she had the first successful re-attachment of a limb – her arm – at a Sioux Falls hospital several years ago.
It wasn’t the first time the Texas crew came to Nebraska.
"The first time Jeremy Caruthers came with a load of hay and stayed to fix fence," Lorie Kreycik Knigge said.
Knigge is a resident of Verdigre and a professional photographer who spent many hours documenting the flood damage in northeast Nebraska. She also spent countless hours organizing flood relief efforts in the area, coordinating anything from food for people and animals to donations of money and also hundreds of hours of volunteer help. The Texas crew came to Nebraska thanks to a Facebook post by a 4-H leader from York County, which was read by a 4-H leader in Texas.
Knigge even did some digging to find the trail of ownership of Svatos’ house and the first recorded owner was Taylor and Julia Glick in 1905, some of the original founders of Verdel.
Wickersham recalls that fateful day of flooding quite clearly. About 1 p.m., Svatos called Wickersham at work and said she better come home. She lived just down the road from her mom.
"I rushed home and my mom said she would give me 10 minutes to collect some clothes for myself and my kids," Wickersham said. "I barely had time to collect those few items and I was waist deep in water walking out of house."
Svatos had already chased her cattle, belly-deep in water, out of the their yard to higher ground and was loading her sheep herd into a livestock trailer out of a barn filling with water when her daughter called for help.
"You are coming to get me, right?" Wickersham said to Svatos on the phone. A neighbor, Jeremy Mahan, was sent with a tractor and a loader to rescue Wickersham. As his tractor slammed into Wickersham’s deck from the force of the current, Wickersham threw her bags and jumped with her dog to the loader bucket.
"I didn’t think we were going to make it back to my mom’s house," Wickersham said.
There had never been flood water in her house or in her mom’s house but the rebuilding is moving quite quickly as insulation is completed and the sheet-rocking process going strong. The Texas crew will be leaving in a week.