Cold brings back frigid memory
As Hope Heidecker sat in her home in Minneota on New Year's Eve, she heard a weather report stated that the temperature was minus 22 degrees with a windchill factor of minus 45.
Upon hearing that, Heidecker thought back to a similar cold day 41 years ago in which she and her family averted a potential disaster.
Hope and her late ex-husband Bob lived in Willmar in 1976 with their four children; Melanie, 16; Greg, 13; Matthew, 7; and Jennifer, 4.
Those six ventured out on a frigid and windy day in late December.
Two older children, Robert and Rebecca, didn’t accompany the family on the trip. “I don’t remember that day,” said Jennifer, who also currently lives in Minneota. “I was really little.”
But her mother recalls the brutal day well. The Heideckers got an invitation that day to visit friends Walter and Viola Koenen north of Clara City, approximately 18 miles from Willmar.
“It was cold and windy when we started out that day,” said Hope. “It was later in the afternoon and the sun was shining when we left home.” The family packed into their station wagon and began the journey west on Highway 40.
The roads were ice-covered in areas so the trip was taking a little longer than usual. About halfway to their destination, it began to snow and was becoming heavier with each passing minute.
The Heideckers were just a short distance from the southward turn they would make onto County Road 2, about one mile to the Koenens’ farmsite.
The winds were intensifying and a soon a powerful gust forced the Heideckers’ vehicle to skid off the icy road and into the ditch.
“We were still facing the same direction we were going,” Hope recalls.
“We weren't in the ditch more than a couple of minutes when a car came from the other direction.”
Fortunately, the driver of that vehicle stopped to help and had a chain in his trunk. He pulled the Heideckers’ vehicle out of the ditch and they continued on way. Bob then turned onto County Road 2 and the Heideckers were within a mile of their destination when the vehicle was again blown off the road and into the ditch. “It was now dark outside and this time there were no cars coming in either direction,” said Hope. “We ended up spending the night in the ditch.” Matthew and Jennifer crawled in the front seat with their parents, while Melanie and Greg remained in the back seat.
“We had a full tank of gas so we kept the car running for heat,” said Hope. Eventually, the Heideckers’ car ran out of gas and the family began to feel the wrath of the outdoor elements inside their vehicle. “The windows all had thick ice on them from our breaths,” said Hope. “In the morning we were praying that someone would come and get us.” Shortly after Hope said a prayer aloud, the family heard a noise.
“I had just said ‘Please God, have someone come and find us’ and a little while later we heard a noise,” she said. “It was a snowplow coming from the west. It was about 6 a.m. then.”
The man driving the snowplow stopped and got out of his truck and walked over to the vehicle in the ditch. He then tapped on the window and asked if anyone was inside.
Bob opened the car door and talked to the snowplow driver, who admitted he wasn't going to stop until noticing the ice that had formed on the inside of the vehicle’s windows, indicating to him that someone was likely inside.
“I remember the snowplow driver telling us how scared he was because he didn't know what he was going to see inside the car,” said Hope.
Bob told the driver to take the kids to safety and then come back to get him and his wife.
“The snowplow driver refused to leave us there and insisted we all get inside the truck,” said Hope.
“He then drove us to our friends' house.” Cold, hungry and exhausted, the Heideckers soon found sanctuary inside the Koenens’ country home.
“We all had warm clothes on in the car, which probably helped us a lot,” said Hope.
“But I don’t remember if we had any blankets in the car or not.”
Often, people trapped inside a vehicle for several hours in sub-zero temperatures face severe frostbite that can lead to amputations of fingers, toes and even more. Fortunately, all six of the Heideckers avoided such a fate.
“We were very lucky,” said Hope. “And we were lucky someone came along both times we went into the ditch.”
The Heideckers didn’t expect the weather to take such a nasty turn so quickly when they left their home in Willmar.
“When you live in Minnesota, you just can’t trust the weather,” said Hope.
The Heideckers never ventured out for any more winter trips like that again. “We made sure when we visited the Koenens or anyone else after that, it was in the summer,” laughed Hope. “It sure doesn’t feel like 40 years ago. But as cold as it’s been lately, it really brings back memories.”