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Deep-rooted Northwood family weathers multiple home disasters -- and finally starts to relax

NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- The Bilden kids weren't so sure about rebuilding right there, on the corner lot they called home. "This place is jinxed!" one said shortly after the Aug. 26, 2007, tornado severely damaged the Bilden house -- a structure rebuil...

NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- The Bilden kids weren't so sure about rebuilding right there, on the corner lot they called home.

"This place is jinxed!" one said shortly after the Aug. 26, 2007, tornado severely damaged the Bilden house -- a structure rebuilt less than two years earlier after a fire.

Having to start over again seemed daunting to Mom and Dad, too.

"I've had a hard time coming back to the house while it's being rebuilt," Karen Bilden said as she stood in the unfurnished living room, the wood floor unfinished, doors and windows still waiting for restorative trim.

"It was such a struggle the first time, after the fire, and it's been such a struggle this time. It was such a mess."


But there was little chance the Bildens would leave Northwood.

There was no debate, no family gathering around a salvaged kitchen table to vote.

"There wasn't even any talk of leaving," Wade Bilden said. "I would have felt we were abandoning our home, running away. And the tornado was easier to deal with, in a way, because it happened to all of us.

"Of course we were going to stay."

His roots run deep. Wade's great-grandfather opened the pharmacy in 1885, just a year after Northwood was incorporated and four years before statehood. Wade took over, the fourth generation to operate the family business, after graduating from North Dakota State University in Fargo in 1983 and working for three years as a pharmacist in the Los Angeles area, where he met Karen.

"As you get older, small towns get bigger," he said, explaining the decision to return home. "And when you have a family business, there's a tradition to uphold."

Hello, neighbor

What's the best part of living in Northwood? The worst part?


Bilden laughed. "At the top of both lists would be that you know everybody," he said.

"You can get peopled out a little. They may intrude on things you think are personal. But after the fire, we had tremendous support from people here, and the help after the tornado was unbelievable."

How is he different?

"I appreciate the right things more," he said. "We all learned how many friends we have, and it was great to see the good side of so many people."

Northwood is different, too. "People are more easygoing now."

The pharmacy didn't suffer much damage in the tornado, though much of the stock had to be tossed. Wade was back at work right away, filling prescriptions and providing recovery workers with everything from snacks to generators. Karen, editor of the Northwood Gleaner, had to get busy right away, too, putting out a special report on the tornado.

At home, the couple lost a half-dozen ash trees and flowering crabs, tough losses because they had been planted to mark the birth of their children: Danielle, now 18, Audrey, 16, and Sam, 13.

The garage was torn from the house, and the house had water and wind damage throughout. "We had the tornado cliches, too," Wade said, including a 2-by-6 board through the wall in a daughter's bedroom.


Wade and the kids had been sitting on the front porch, Karen watching television inside, when the siren sounded. Everybody "boogied to the basement," she said. As Wade tried to close the basement door, glass from the shattering living room windows came flying beneath it.

After fire destroyed the house in late 2003, the family lived in several places while the new house was built. After the tornado, the Bildens spent a month at a friend's Golden Lake cabin, near Hatton, N.D., then rented a house in Northwood.

"It was toughest on Sam," Wade said. "Kids need their routines, and his was gone."

A new Northwood

They stripped most of the woodwork and started over. Restoration of their dream house has been a long haul. "There are only so many plumbers, carpenters and electricians around," he said.

He glanced at the unfinished wood floor, covered in a dusty pattern of workers' boot tracks.

"The guy doing the floors must be working on another job today," he said.

Karen agrees that people in Northwood "have loosened up a little," as the tornado tore out some fences. "People know their neighbors better, and they're more ready to share, to help out if somebody needs something," she said.


"I used to love thunderstorms. They're still a little creepy to me now, but I'm beginning to relax. I'm starting to get excited about the house because it's getting done.

"We've come back so well, so much, in this past year," she said. "People are excited about the new Northwood."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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