Goodbye, Gertrude: Only car damaged on campus during tornados held precious memories

The effects of last night’s tornados rattled Sioux Falls to the core.  The damage was extensive and the city felt the full power of a twister for the first time since 1989, according to the Argus Leader. 

Augustana was no exception.  Tree branches and garbage littered the campus.  

Many students woke up around midnight and descended to the lowest part of  dorm buildings and apartments to wait out the storm.  

However, sophomore Calie Kaiser  experienced more than just shock from the storm.  Her vehicle, lovingly named “Gertrude,” was the only one on campus reported to be severely damaged by flying debris, Kaiser said Campus Safety told her.

  “We had just named [the car], too,” Kaiser said. 

Kaiser first saw the damage from her window when she returned to Granskou after Campus Safety said conditions were safe for students to leave the basement and go back to their rooms. 

“When I first saw it from the window, I thought it was ok. It was dimly lit,” Kaiser said. 

Kaiser realized that was not the case when she went outside to inspect the damage more closely.  “When I first saw the car up close, I thought it was a branch…when I walked around [to the other side] I saw the damage,” she said, “The more I looked at it, the more damage I saw.” 

A tree branch shattered the windshield of her 2018 Jeep Compass on the passenger side and severely dented the roof as it was parked on 28th St. near the campus garden.  A headlight was hanging off the front of the gray Jeep, and the engine and hood were immensely damaged. Glass and rain littered the inside of her vehicle.

Kaiser said she’s glad she was able to save some personal items from the inside of the Jeep before they were damaged. 

“My grandpa, before he passed away, he would make designs out of palm leaf branches, and I had one of the only ones he made me in my car…and a guardian angel medallion that I got from his car,” she said. 

Calie Kaiser holds a a guardian angel medallion and a memento from her Grandfather made of palm leaves. She saved these from her 2018 Jeep Compass after the worst of the storm had passed. Photo by Katelyn Clement.

Kaiser said she could only open the passenger door open about six inches while rescuing the two items.

“It was probably stupid of me to go in with broken glass in the car, but something like that is priceless,” she said  A car can be replaced, but something with that sentimental value has no price.”

But there is something Kaiser can’t save from the totaled vehicle: a memory. 

“I’ll never be able to look over in the passenger seat and think, ‘That’s where my friend sat.’” 

Almost exactly a year ago, one of Kaiser’s closest friends passed away.  One of her favorite memories of him was one that took place that car. 

“[It] was one of the stupid memories of him. We were fighting over the aux cord and I accidentally knocked the gear shift into neutral and I revved the engine thinking it was in drive. Sometimes I looked over into the passenger seat and thought about that time.” 

Kaiser said estimated damages to “Gertrude” are about $10,000, and doesn’t know how much of the damages insurance will cover.  Kaiser said that she does not know if Billion will continue her lease and give her a new vehicle or salvage “Gertrude” and return it to her.

A tree branch lays atop Calie Kaiser’s 2018 Jeep Compass after shattering the windshield and causing about $10,000 in damages. Photo by Calie Kaiser.

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: