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‘I’m still with you’

Photo of Vilonia woman’s late husband found in Batesville

By Tammy Keith

This article was published May 18, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

lori-patterson-stands-on-the-lot-in-vilonia-where-her-home-was-before-it-was-hit-by-the-april-27-tornado-the-debris-has-been-cleared-the-only-thing-left-is-a-storm-shelter-and-a-damaged-inground-pool-pattersons-husband-teddy-died-five-years-ago-this-month-and-a-photo-of-him-was-found-in-a-yard-in-batesville-after-the-storm-tore-through-faulkner-county

Lori Patterson stands on the lot in Vilonia where her home was before it was hit by the April 27 tornado. The debris has been cleared — the only thing left is a storm shelter and a damaged inground pool. Patterson’s husband, Teddy, died five years ago this month, and a photo of him was found in a yard in Batesville after the storm tore through Faulkner County.

A heart attack took Lori Patterson’s husband five years ago, and a tornado April 27 took the home in Vilonia where they raised their children.

The twister also took one of her favorite photos of her late husband, Teddy, but dropped it about 75 miles away in Batesville, where it was found.

“It is a picture of him hunting — he was a big hunter — and his dog, Dixie,” Patterson said. “I thought that was ironic, kind of him saying to me, ‘I’m still with you. Physically, I’m not still there, but I’m still here.’”

Patterson is hanging in, too, after dealing with her husband’s sudden death in May 2009 when he was 40, and surviving two tornadoes.

“We took him to the hospital, and they thought it was reflux. He died within three hours. He was actually at the house when he had his heart attack,” she said. “It was unexpected — absolutely no heart disease on either parent’s side.”

Her husband wasn’t overweight, didn’t smoke and was active, she said.

“He was very outgoing, one of those people who never met a stranger. He was the one you wanted to have at get-togethers because he made everybody laugh. He was a good father and a good husband — a Christian man.

“Teddy was a Christian, and I know where he’s at, and I’ll be with him one day — me and the kids.”

The couple have a son, Hayden, 15, and a daughter, Lauren, 12.

Patterson, a Russellville native, said she and Teddy, a Biscoe native, met at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. She was there on a volleyball scholarship and majored in business. He was getting a degree in agriculture business.

“He grew up farming; his whole family farmed,” she said.

They both loved horses, and he shod horses on the side. He was employed with the Farm Bureau.

The couple first bought a “small country house” between Conway and Vilonia, and in 1998, they bought a home on 15 acres in Vilonia. He spent weekends with his dad building a barn on the property.

After her husband died, Patterson and their children stayed in their home.

“I didn’t want to flip their world anymore upside down than it was. I was fortunate to be able to stay in the house and keep their lives as normal as possible. Both are involved heavily into sports; both ride horses,” she said.

Patterson said her employer, Acxiom, allowed her to have a flexible schedule and work from home two days a week so she can have weekends free to be with her children.

“It was a big blessing,” she said.

In April 2011, almost two years after Teddy died, a tornado came through Vilonia. Patterson and her children were in a safe room at a friend’s house. The EF2 tornado tore a hole in the Pattersons’ living-room roof, broke two windows and took the roof off the barn and a side shed.

“The kids and I were safe, and the horses — none of them got hurt. We really kind of missed the edge of it,” she said.

The biggest loss was “probably 100 trees,” she said, “those big, giant 100-year-old oaks, I call them.”

Then another tornado hit with a vengeance April 27.

Although Patterson’s father, Mack Hayden, had installed a storm shelter behind her home, she and her children went to a neighbor’s storm shelter.

“It was probably 200 yards from my house on a hill,” she said. “Six neighbors ended up in my shelter before [the tornado] came through.

“I did hear it, and I could tell it wasn’t directly over their place, over their shelter, and I could tell it was going over my place. I just had that feeling. The house really never crossed my mind; it was the poor horses. I couldn’t decide whether to put them in the barn or turn them out.”

She had let them out, she said.

When she got out of the storm shelter and saw her property, everything was gone, she said.

“It kind of looked like it exploded. The walls were all gone; the roof was all gone; the second story was gone,” she said. “Stuff I had in the back of the house was sucked up to the front of the house.”

Her daughter’s first question was whether her two ponies were OK. They were injured, but all right, Patterson said. One of the family’s horses had to be put down that night, though.

“I never looked at his injuries. I just put his head on my shoulder and talked to him,” she said.

“I broke down when the vet got there to put the horse down.”

Not all was lost.

“I was very blessed and was able to salvage a lot of pictures — the kids’ pictures, my husband’s pictures,” Patterson said. “They found my wedding ring and my grandmother’s ring. When Hayden was born, Teddy had got me a birthstone ring.”

That was found in the rubble, too, she said.

“Out of all my jewelry that I owned, those would probably be the three pieces that I would want to find,” she said.

Her niece Haley Oxner, 20, of Brinkley was in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas, where she will be a junior, when she heard that a tornado had hit her aunt Lori’s house but that the family was OK.

“Teddy was my mother’s younger brother,” Oxner said. “He was a very, very friendly person and very social — never met a stranger.”

Oxner said she woke up at 6 a.m. April 28 to see what

damage the tornado had wrought in central Arkansas.

She said a friend of hers, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, contacted her.

“She said, ‘Hey, go look on Twitter, someone found a picture of your uncle.’ I actually tweeted back the news guy. … I said it was a picture of my late Uncle Teddy, and we’d appreciate having the picture back.”

She said his dog, which he’d had since she was a puppy, died a few months after Teddy did.

The news station called the Batesville resident who found the photo, Oxner said, and her grandmother’s pastor in Biscoe is making connections to get the picture returned.

Patterson said the photo of Teddy was of him and Dixie resting on a log, waiting for ducks to fly. The picture had been framed but was loose when it was found.

“The picture was in perfect shape. There weren’t any tears or water damage,” she said.

“That’s a long distance, and that was a picture of Teddy, of all things,” Patterson said.

It’s also remarkable to her that it landed somewhere that a person could find it and try to return it.

Patterson said she believes it’s a little message from her late husband, and there are lessons to be learned from the hard past five years. One is “just keep looking forward.”

“You learn quickly that you’re not in control. You know, really, until something like this happens, you think you are. You realize you’re not, and God has different plans and bigger plans than the road you think you’re going to go down.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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