Although a holiday blizzard stopped a few hundred miles short of Ottawa County, a small group of area residents will never forget how the treacherous storm brought 44 strangers together for the New Year.
Debbie Shumaker and Debi Smith left Miami last week headed for Angel Fire, N.M., for a skiing trip. The pair was followed by Shumaker's two sons and their girlfriends.
“We had taken two cars and carried Walkie Talkies to communicate back and forth because we knew our cell phones may not work in certain areas, Smith said.
As it turned out, those hand-held communication devices may have been what saved the lives of several stranded motorists.
“We knew the storm was coming, Smith said. “But we thought we'd left in time to beat it.
On Dec. 29, traveling across U.S. 56 in the northeast plains of New Mexico became a nightmare, according to Smith. Just 130 miles from their vacation destination, their trip came to a frigid halt.
“We were driving in whiteout conditions, Smith said. “You couldn't see anything and the snow drift was piling up.
About 20 miles west of Clayton, N.M., a minor accident stalled traffic. As 80- to 100-mph winds drifted more snow onto the road, vehicles were unable to move forward.
“Snow plows couldn't even reach us, Debbie Shumaker said. “The drift was taller than we were.
She said the snow and wind were so strong that visibility was extremely low. “We just couldn't see anything.
Unbeknownst to the travelers, they were stranded within 150 yards of a farm house where Randy and Christine Glover had no idea that distressed travelers were nearby.
The Glovers were talking to each other on hand-held radios between the house and the barn when they intercepted a radio conversation between the Shumakers.
“You could hear them, but you couldn't see them, said Christine Glover, 34. “They were only about 150 yards from our house. They didn't even know there was a house behind the big trees. They couldn't see the barn. It was pretty much a whiteout.
The Glovers began talking by radio to 25-year-old Clayton Shumaker who explained the situation.
The strangers continued to communicate by radio over the next three to four hours and it soon became clear that traffic was not going to move.
“They tried to give us directions to their house using landmarks but we just couldn't see anything, Debbie Shumaker said. “At one point, the wind whipped around and I thought I saw a school crossing sign.
Neither Randy Glover, 39, nor his wife could recall where a school crossing sign was located.
“A little while later another gust came up and I saw what I thought was a grain silo on four posts, Debbie Shumaker said. “I described this to Randy and he said you're about 100 yards from my house'.
Bundled in layers of clothing and packing only toothbrushes, the six Ottawa County travelers trekked their way through mountainous snow drifts to the Glovers' home.
“When we got to the house, my son, Clayton, said we can't leave those other people out there', Debbie Shumaker said. “So he and my other son, Cane, headed back out to gather the rest of the stranded motorists.
The quiet family of four, including the Glovers' children - Lance, 9, and Linzie, 3, - welcomed a gathering of 44 strangers by nightfall.
Randy Glover said the closest house was five miles away and it would be impossible to get any of the travelers to neighboring farms. The large group would have to bunk in the couple's 1,200-square foot home.
“It was just flat a need that needed to be met, Randy Glover said. “These people weren't here by choice.
Christine Glover had a pot of chili on waiting for the arrival of the Shumaker clan, but wasn't expecting such a large guest list.
“It didn't take long to get through two pots of chili and all the sandwich stuff, Debbie Shumaker said. “Christine was out of food.
One of the travelers, an affiliate truck driver, was hauling a load of groceries to nearby communities.
“My son told him they would have to break the seal on the load and get to the food, Debbie Shumaker said. “He was hesitant at first, but we were in a state of emergency.
The large group spent the next few days munching on pop tarts, chips, cereal and soup. What could have been a terrible experience for several families, according to Debbie Shumaker, turned into an “awesome event, thanks to the generosity of the Glovers.
“The Glovers are fabulous people, she said.
Even the Glovers' small children thought the blizzard and all their guests were a lot of fun.
“We laughed, and we played dominos and cards, Christine Glover said. “The mood of the group was very loving. We told stories. We got to know each other. We met some lifelong friends.
By Sunday, the roads were passable and many guests headed on their way. One guest, a heart-transplant patient, ran low on vital medication and was evacuated by helicopter early that day.
About 14 of the guests stayed to bring in the New Year with the Glover family. Before leaving, all of the guests exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
“We kind of missed them all when they left, Christine Glover said. “I'm having kind of an empty-nest thing. I've been waiting my whole life to get a chance to help people like that.
Debbie Shumaker said she and Christine Glover have talked several times since they returned to Miami.
“We are actually planning a reunion for next year about this time, Debbie Shumaker said. “We'll definitely stay in touch.
Coming from Pennsylvania and Ohio, Debbie Shumaker said she has always loved the snow and used to say she didn't care if a blizzard hit. “I think I'll be more careful what I wish for from now on.