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Silence for the victims

Mercedes Erickson sat with one hand over her heart and the other clutching six red roses as bagpipes buzzed nearby. Each rose represented a child she lost in the 1957 tornado, six children ages 16 months to 16 years old. "It's something you don't...

50th anniversary
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Mercedes Erickson sat with one hand over her heart and the other clutching six red roses as bagpipes buzzed nearby.

Each rose represented a child she lost in the 1957 tornado, six children ages 16 months to 16 years old.

"It's something you don't forget," she said after a memorial service for the victims.

It was her 86th birthday.

Nearly 200 people gathered Wednesday morning at Fargo's Madison Elementary School to commemorate the 12 lives lost in the state's deadliest tornado in its history.

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"(This memorial) is dedicated to the innocent people who perished and those who suffered great loss," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. "This is going to continue their memory for some time."

Walaker led the service with photos displaying the destruction after the tornado.

"Pictures don't do justice to an event," he said. "But what it does reinforce is how fragile life can be."

Walaker thanked the National Weather Service, fire department and countless others who helped during the disaster. A moment of silence was followed by a dedication of an engraved rock outside the school, honoring those who lost their lives.

Even though the tornado was 50 years ago, the service showed there are still many people whose lives were forever altered.

Like Lynn Carlisle.

Tears streamed down her face as she clutched two red roses in honor of her mother and father, Don and Betty Lou Titgen, victims of the tornado.

"I don't even know why I'm crying," said Carlisle, 52, of West Fargo. "My family never talked much about the event."

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Yet it greatly affected her life at a young age. She was raised by her grandmother. And "I was scared to death of storms growing up," she said.

The Davenports came from Arizona for the service.

Jon Davenport, now 50, was a 7-month-old baby when he was ripped from his mother's arms in the tornado and later found in critical condition.

Jerry Davenport pointed to the scars on his son's head, clear evidence of the storm's impact so many years later.

And there's Eileen Miller.

Her family was close with Theodore and Theresa Udahl, who died along with their 8-year-old daughter.

"I just wanted to remember those people," said Miller, 62, of West Fargo. "They were just a wonderful family."

The service reminded her of the details of that terrible day.

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"It brings back a flood of memories," she said as she started to choke up.

For Erickson, whose last name was Munson at the time, the service also elicited painful memories of the past. Though she couldn't talk about it for years, Erickson spoke to many people about the tragedy Wednesday.

"This was the first time she's been back in 50 years," said Steve Carbno of the Salvation Army, who organized the service. "It was an opportunity for her to move on."

The memorial symbolizes the tragedy in an area hit the worst.

"It was a very traumatic experience," Miller said. "The people in this neighborhood really pulled together."

And it represents the many lives altered by one day 50 years ago.

"It affected a lot of people," Carlisle said. "Don't forget."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 235-7311

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