Student Loses Home in Tornado, Remains Focused on Graduation

You might call it luck or just a really good day, but after hearing Leslie Montague’s story, you’ll agree her recent success is well-deserved. The very day Montague passed her Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam she got hired at Premier Surgical Institute – a brand new hospital in Galena, Kan. Needless to say, the Rasmussen College Health Information Technician graduate is overjoyed

“For it all to fall into place the very same day is incredible,” said Montague. “I can’t help but tell everyone the great news.”

Montague has every reason to gloat. Not even two years ago, she found herself hiding in a bathroom clutching onto her nine-year-old son for dear life.

“It felt like it lasted forever,” said Montague. “The roar and vibration was so intense. Everything just shook.”

Montague is referring to the catastrophic EF5 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo. on May 22, 2011. It’s one of the nation’s deadliest tornadoes with a total of 161 fatalities. Another 1,100 people were injured. House after house was torn to pieces, including Montague’s home of 47 years.

“I remember I had just finished my last assignment for the week and was getting something to eat in the kitchen when the storm hit,” said Montague. “The next thing I knew, the sirens were going off so I grabbed my son and put him in the bathtub. That’s when I looked outside and watched my brother’s car being pummeled with hail.”

It’s not the first time Montague says she’s had to take shelter. Severe weather is common in Missouri, so she didn’t really think much of it. Her two brothers hunkered down with her. Her mom headed for the bathroom next door.

“When the sirens went off a second time I grabbed a flashlight because I knew the lights might go out,” said Montague. “I didn’t realize everything was about to go out.”

When the tornado hit, Montague says she covered her son in the bathtub. She remembers him asking over and over again, “Is it over yet?” Finally, the roaring stopped.

“I’ll never forget what my son asked,” said Montague. “He asked, ‘mom, is that the sky?’ I thought ‘what in the world is he talking about?’ I looked up and sure enough the only thing above us was the sky.”

It looked as if her house had just exploded. Montague says the only thing left standing was the area where her family had taken refuge.

“I remember looking to the right where my bedroom used to be,” said Montague. “Instead, I was looking outside.”

No one would fault Montague for deciding to take a break from college. She had just lost her home and practically everything she owned, but Montague says she made a promise to herself to graduate and provide a better life for her and her son.

“My son is my hero,” said Montague. “He’s the one I focused on after the tornado to keep me going.”

For two months, Montague and her son lived with her sister who didn’t have Internet access out in the country. Being an online student, Montague needed the Internet to continue with her classes, so she went out and purchased the only Internet provider she could find. She says if she sat in just the right spot in the house and in just the right position, she could get a good connection. Eventually, her mom bought a new house in Neosho, Mo. about 20 miles southeast of Joplin.

“Honestly, I needed the distraction from what was going on in Joplin,” said Montague. “My classes kept me going and gave me something to look forward to.”

Montague says her student advisor played a large role in her success. She was in constant contact with her up until graduation last December.

“I would never have made it without my student advisor Kelli,” said Montague. “Whenever I needed to vent, I would call or email her, and she would always make me feel better. The support at Rasmussen College is amazing.”

Two years after the disaster, Montague can call herself a college graduate, a promise she made to herself and her family. She says she hopes her story inspires other students to keep going when life tears apart your plans.

“At times it was too much, but then I would just get over it, buckle down and make it through,” said Montague.

Do you have a success story? We are looking for more students to feature on our College Life Blog. If you are interested in sharing your Rasmussen College story or know someone we should speak with, email us at [email protected].

About the author

Molly Andersen

Director of Public Relations

Molly is a Director of Public Relations at American Public Education, Inc., where she works on public relations and communications on behalf of Rasmussen University. A passionate storyteller, Molly believes everyone has a story to tell. She feels privileged to share the inspiring stories and wisdom of Rasmussen’s students, alumni, faculty and staff, and show others the transformative power of education.

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