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After the Storm | 30 Years of Perseverance

The Lafayette Team     April 26, 2024

The morning of April 26, 1994, began as any other. Soft winds whispered through burgeoning leaves as commuters drove to and from work. By midday, temperatures soared to a high of 87 degrees as residents treated themselves to a warm, partly cloudy afternoon. As day shifted into night - and as a new set of commuters set off on their evening exchange, temperatures eased to a comfortable 70 degrees.

It was just another Tuesday night for the residents of West Lafayette, Indiana. But that would soon change for the workers of Lafayette Interior Fashions and its surrounding inhabitants.

The Storm

It was just after midnight. Most of the second-shift workers had gone home for the evening, leaving only 38 people on site. The vast majority were in the wood products building, while three dock workers busied themselves with a truck bound for Muncie-Dayton. Exhausted from their long day, two customer service agents headed towards their cars. 

All was quiet. Suddenly, without warning, a powerful F4 tornado tore through Lafayette's main production building. There was no siren, no indication of the impending disaster. The force of the wind pushed the entire South Wall seventy-five feet northward, trapping the three dock workers under a pile of rubble and twisted debris. Meanwhile, the two customer service agents were now in their cars, unaware of the destruction unfolding around them. As the two-car caravan moved towards the road, the storm swept up the second vehicle, rolling it into a neighboring cornfield.


From there, the 60-mile-per-hour tornado continued on its path of destruction, traveling 14 miles along the vicinity of the Tippecanoe-Carol County lines. In its wake, it left sixty-four mobile homes and eleven single-family homes destroyed. Countless other dwellings and structures were damaged. Three people in and around the surrounding area lost their lives.



The People

Out of the three people who were trapped by falling debris, only two survived. Loading Supervisor Ron Sollars did not withstand the impact. Ron, a cherished figure at Lafayette Interior Fashions, was only twenty-four years old when he tragically lost his life. He left behind his then six-month-old daughter.


Featured: Ron Sollars and his daughter


The Customer service agent whose car was propelled in a nearby cornfield miraculously survived. The agent, Brenda Cruea, was six weeks pregnant when she was ejected from her vehicle. However, despite her injuries, she was able to march to the edge of the road, where she was spotted by an off-duty nurse. From there, she was rushed to the hospital, where she received treatment for her injuries. The impact from the crash left her with over 200 stitches and a fractured spine, but her baby remained in good health. Brenda gave birth to her son, Carson, on Christmas day and continues to be a treasured member of the Lafayette Team. She is now an inside sales representative for part of our Eastern and Southern Regions.


Untitled-1Featured: Brenda Cruea and her son, Carson

The Aftermath

The following morning, dozens of employees were greeted with the devastating impact of the previous night's storm. A line of police cars blocked the entrance while bystanders watched from the street. While most of the front office and wood production building remained relatively unscathed, most of the main building was destroyed. The tall metallic structure that was once their second home was now nothing more than a pile of twisted steel. However, despite the initial shock of the storm's impact, many remained optimistic about Lafayette's future.


Dealers, vendors, and members of the community rallied together to lend their support. In a heartwarming display of solidarity, distributors from across the country, including parts of Florida, flew in to aid in the reconstruction efforts. By Thursday, April 28, demolition had begun. Soon after, tents were erected in the parking lot to host salvaged hardware and material. Those who worked in the office were able to return to their duties, thanks to the help of generators, while those who worked in production were transferred to previously owned buildings: Ones that were in use before the main campus was constructed in 1992.

Thanks to the help of our dealers, partners, and vendors, we were able to re-open our doors in October of 1994, just five months after the storm. 

The Solidarity

In the thirty years since, Lafayette has continued to move forward with the same sense of reverence and resilience. While we can never truly regain what was lost, we can honor the fallen through shared acts of kindness and solidarity. In a world often plagued by tales of cruelty and self-interest, it's moments like these that remind us of what’s important: our capacity for human compassion. 

To those who rushed to our aid without hesitation, we offer our sincerest thanks. We would not be where we are today were it not for you. 


Here is to thirty more years of resilience and camaraderie. May we all weather the toughest of life’s storms together.


Note: We wish to dedicate this article to the individuals who shared their stories. Your words have power; we cannot thank you enough for lending us some of that strength.

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