, Muskogee, OK


June 20, 2013

COLUMN: Tornado recovery find leads to a Father’s Day surprise

Dave McGaugh got two surprises for Father’s Day.

One was planned through his son Chad.

The other? Well, it actually surprised both.

Dave lived approximately two miles east of El Reno until the record-breaking 2 1/2 mile wide June 7 tornado swept his mobile home away in the same way that a broom would brush aside dust.

It was there on Saturday that a youth group from Muskogee’s First Assembly of God was teaming with other youth groups through the faith-based organization Convoy of Hope to assist with cleanup operations in some of the overlooked rural areas that were ravaged by the second EF5 to hit the state in less than a month.

In a pile of debris, there was a single page out of a scrapbook — on one side, a 1998 article by then-Oklahoman lead preps writer Murray Evans, who wrote Lawton’s “stout defense and bread-and-butter offense” posted a 28-5 win over Edmond Santa Fe for their first 6-0 start since 1988.

The reverse side gave a better clue about this find.

In a letter dated that fall, then-Nebraska coach Frank Solich wrote Chad expressing his interest in the wide receiver who in that contest caught a 61-yard pass from soon-to-be OSU bound Aso Pogi to set up one of Lawton’s TDs.

My son, Patrick, had the happenstance role of making the find which was pinned underneath some twisted steel. Back in Muskogee later on Saturday, we searched for Chad on Facebook. We found him, found where he works as a personal trainer, and called the business to leave a message for him.

Within 15 minutes, my son’s phone rang.

Turns out it was more than special, as Dave attested to a little later.

“I had seven of them, all full of different clips and pictures of Chad, my daughter Angie, and every football thing that had his name in it,” the 64-year-old former Lawton firefighter said.

“Haven’t found any of them until now.”

He abandoned his house “about five minutes” before the twister hit, a shave made closer because of a futile attempt to get his 5-year-old cat Boomer in his truck.

“I kept hollering his name, trying to get him to come out,” he said. “I ran out of time.”

Dave drove east — “I could tell looking back it was smack-dab in the direction of my trailer but then it went northeast,” he said. “I got a little bit of a look at it in my rear-view mirror.”

He drove 20 minutes to Mustang where his daughter, Angie Simpson, lives.

“We were in the cellar there when an F1 went through that area but missed us,” he said.

Later that evening he tried to return home to assess the damage.

“It was so dark you couldn’t see all the devastation and police were everywhere,” he said.

Not until early Saturday morning was he able to find out how bad it was.

“Chad met me out there and nothing was there. It really was like it was swept clean,” Dave said. “I borrowed a four-wheeler and made a half-mile circumference around it. All I found were two pictures, one of the kids fishing at Fort Cobb, a spoon, fork and pan.”

About a week later while out there, Boomer found him.

“He just wandered up a little worse for wear,” Dave said.

Now, at least a small part of those football memories have surfaced and should be in his hands today. Just hearing the news was enough to make his day.

“I had just given him about $1,500 in gifts and cash that day we had been collecting at work when I got the call about this,” said Chad. “I thought that was going to be the big surprise. The timing of it couldn’t have been more perfect. I hung up and said ‘Dad, someone’s found my letter from Nebraska.’”

Chad didn’t end up at Nebraska, or Oklahoma, or at any other of the handful of Division I schools that corresponded with him. He played baseball at Seminole Junior College then finished at Central Oklahoma.

“I wasn’t big enough to end up at a Division I school,” Chad said. “But I knew that along with that cat, those letters and articles and pictures of us kids were his most prized possessions.”

Chad, ironically, missed the devastation in Moore by two miles. “My home is at 164th and Santa Fe, it hit 134th and Santa Fe. I’m thankful for that, but then it got my dad two weeks later.”

With Boomer at his side, Dave plans to rebuild.

At least for now, he’s got one scrap to rebuild a book with, if not frame for hanging.

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