Butler County's great daily newspaper

Dodging Death

Butler woman beats a Kansas twister

May 14, 2018 Digital Media Exclusive

Advertisement | Advertise Here
Isabelle Stephens holds an “I survived” necklace Thursday that her friend bought her to mark June 10 as 60 years since she survived an El Dorado, Kansas, tornado.

June 10 will mark the 60th anniversary of an event that should be etched forever in Isabelle Stephens' mind.

That she can't remember the tornado that sucked her out of the car she was riding in and threw her through a barbed wire fence is testimony to the ferocity of the twister that overtook her and her husband, Albert Ellsworth of Johnstown, that day in Butler County, Kansas, in 1958.

According to Stephens, 84, of Butler township, she and her new husband were driving through Kansas when the twister struck their car.

She said, “I never saw it. We had stopped at a rest stop off the exit we took on the way to see my Aunt Bertha. I don't remember getting back onto the highway.”

But she managed to piece the story together after she woke up in an El Dorado, Kansas, hospital three weeks later.

Stephens was sucked from the car and thrown through a barbed wire fence 500 feet away.

Unconscious and without identification, Stephens said it was by tracing their license plate through Harrisburg that the El Dorado hospital discovered their unconscious patient's name.

Her husband, who was also pulled from the car by the winds, wound up in a hospital 40 miles north in Wichita.

She wrote a memoir of her encounter with the “wrong-way tornado” entitled “A Life That Almost Wasn't” in 2009.

For the 60th anniversary, Stephens said, “I'm going to have a fellow come out and take a video of me to send out to Kansas to show them how good I turned out.”

Read more about Stephens' experience in the Butler Eagle.

Share this article:
Eric Freehling

Eric Freehling

Eric was born in Butler and grew up in Winfield Township. He graduated from Knoch High School and later Indiana University of Pa. with a degree in Journalism. After working as a reporter and editor with the Kittanning Leader-Times, he moved to Bloomington, Illinois, where he worked at The Pantagraph newspaper as a copy editor, page designer, reporter and business editor. Freehling later worked at the Houston Chronicle as senior copy editor and the Chicago Tribune as a copy editor on the business desk. He moved back to Pennsylvania in 2010 and joined the Butler Eagle as Community Editor in January 2011.