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Monday, June 30, 2014

Storm ended couple's 64 years together

BY DEB GRUVER
The Wichita Eagle

Alex called out for Bunny.

Three times, he said her name.

And then, no more.

Trapped in the basement of their Hopewell home, wedged under the weight of two trees ripped from the ground by a tornado, Bernice "Bunny" Giles, 82, waited.

She waited for help. She waited to see if the storm was over. Most of all, she waited to hear her husband's voice again.

Her son, Greg, who lives just down the road, came. He rushed over when his parents didn't answer their phone.

When he got there, he called 911.

Her face bruised, her body tired, her heart broken, Bunny sat in a bed at Pratt Regional Medical Center on Monday afternoon and spoke of what life was like Friday night, before everything she knew about life changed.

After watching the warnings on television, she and Alex went to the basement.

"My husband ran back up to get different candles," because the ones he had taken down didn't fit in the holders, she said.

He came back downstairs.

"I was on a chair. He was on a heavy vanity stool. I just happened to think that I was sitting in front of a basement window, and then we heard the 'ping ping ping' of glass and this roar.

"You could not hang on. You could not keep your feet down. It felt like you flew."

She was weightless.

"You could not control where you were."

She was alive.

But was her husband?

"No, Ma'am," she said quietly, pulling a blanket closer.

'Always looking to help'

Alex and Bunny planned to celebrate their 64th anniversary May 16.

Alex was a rancher and farmer.

Their land gave wheat and corn, soybeans and cattle.

They lived together just miles from where Alex was born. They raised three children in the home now destroyed.

Alex liked riding horses. He liked going to farm sales. He liked the country.

He loved his wife, his three children and his nine grandchildren, said son-in-law Gary Luth.

Luth and his wife, Vicki, got the call about 1 a.m. Saturday that her father had died. They live in Illinois.

Luth sat with Bunny on Monday.

"I think she's done very well considering the circumstances," he said. "She understands. She's fully aware. Forty-eight hours ago, she had a husband of 64 years, a home she had for most of those years and all of her belongings."

In seconds, the wind took everything away. Wind.

She and her husband shared a simple closeness that comes with that many years of life and marriage and making a home, said Jenny Larrison, who knows the family and is vice president of patient care at the hospital.

Alex would have been 85 in June. His frame was average build -- maybe 5-foot-10, 170 pounds.

He served two years in World War II and earned a Bronze Star for the Battle of the Bulge.

"He was the kind of person who was always looking to help people," Luth said. "He cared more about other people than he did himself."

His family isn't sure how he died. They chose not to do an autopsy.

Bunny expected to leave the hospital Monday. She underwent a CT scan and other tests. Somehow, her two hip replacements -- including one done recently -- were OK, despite that she was tossed here and there.

She will live with her daughter, Cheryl Marciano, in Hutchinson for now.

What will be of her life in the next few weeks, nobody knows.

Except she will bury her husband on Wednesday.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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