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Dirkx family narrowly escapes Spencer flood, then helps others

Sought refuge with parents in Storm Lake


Everyone who survived the Spencer flood has a story,  including Storm Lake native Brian Dirkx who along with his family, found themselves helping people at Lincoln Elementary escape the rising waters, all the way to the roof. 

It started out Saturday, June 22, as the deluge of rain to the north swelled the Little Sioux River in Spencer to heights it had never reached before. 

The Dirkx family — Brian (a Storm Lake High School 1988 graduate), his wife Michele and their children Jenna and Devin — realized water was rising in their basement and wasn’t stopping. Their home is on the south side behind the mall. 

Brian and Michele are both teachers and coaches in Spencer. Brian has coached the Spencer Tigers baseball team for 31 years. Jenna is a teacher and coach at East High in Sioux City and Devin is a Junior at Northwestern College in Orange City.

The water reached the top step of the Dirkx’s basement and like others in the neighborhood, they evacuated to Lincoln Elementary, the school where Brian teaches fourth grade. They would have to wade through waist-high water to get there.  

But once in the school, it became evident that Brian would take a leadership role. He knew his way around the building. People would be directed into different classrooms. The elderly and those in wheelchairs would go in the library, which is raised from the other classrooms.

“We went all over the school looking for food,” said Devin. He and his dad knew where the refrigerators were and hoped at least some edibles could be found. No one knew how long the flood victims would have to stay in the building. 

Devin and Jenna took a chance. Jenna desperately wanted to rescue her wedding dress. She’s getting married in August. Wading and swimming through chest-high water, they were able to reach the house. Jenna found her dress safe on a top shelf in a closet on the first floor. In the dither of evacuating, she had shoved it there.

Michele did her best to help people stay calm in the school. Because some of the dogs were threatening to fight one another, they were put in separate offices. While some of the kids were noticeably frightened, others tried to make a game out of the situation. 

Jenna remembers one of Megan Jones’s sons exclaiming, “We get to go in a boat, we get to go in a boat!”

Rep. Megan Jones had come to Spencer to pick up her parents who live in town. 

As the water rose in the school, it was decided that those who were able should seek refuge on the roof. Brian knew the ladder could be accessed in the custodial room. 

He estimated that a total of around 150 took shelter in the school altogether.

Later that day help arrived. The Dirkx family caught a ride in a fishing boat from a young man from Royal who was rescuing people on his own. Like many others who were displaced, they found safety in a church. 

Coming home to mom and dad

Saturday morning Kathy and Ardon  Dirkx of Storm Lake were worried about their son Brian and his family. “I called Brian when I saw it on TV,” Kathy said. “He said, ‘I can’t talk, we’re evacuating.’”

“We’re coming to your house,” he would tell his mom. She was relieved. Friends drove the family to Storm Lake.

“They weren’t themselves that first day,” Kathy noticed. It was clear the family had experienced trauma. 

But an overwhelming show of support, from Brian’s baseball players and many friends helped the Dirkxes cope with their many losses. Brian’s pickup was fine, but two cars were unsalvageable. A fourth might be usable. 

The family overnighted at Kathy and Ardan’s through Thursday. They worked on their house during the day. Now they are staying with friends in “the dry side of town.”

Everything from the basement has had to be lugged out of the house and the drywall was removed. Key helpers were Devin’s friends from the Northwestern baseball team. One of the players’ fathers is a master electrician and his skills were highly appreciated.

Fellow coaches Brian has met over the years reached out.

The worst is in the rearview mirror, but Jenna and Devin can’t forget seeing their possessions floating in the water — the water was black — in the basement. The 30-some snow globes in Jenna’s collection bobbed at the surface. The couch floated over the pool table. 

It has just been announced that Lincoln Elementary was so damaged that it will not reopen for the 2024-25 school year.

Fans are running in the Dirkx house. A new hot water heater, furnace and air conditioning unit will soon be installed. 

And the Dirkxes treasure their family and friends now more than ever.

“Were just glad they were safe,” said Kathy.


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