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Tree's life comes full circle after storm

From 100-plus years on a rural Seneca farm to falling in a tornado, a family's tree returns home in a new form

On a June morning three years ago, a strong storm blew through farmland north of Seneca creating an EF-2 tornado that tore through barns and sheds, ripped out trees and left random destruction in its wake.

Thanks to the craftsmanship of a local woodworker, one of those trees has returned to its centennial farm in a new form.

“It’s just absolutely amazing what Drake can do with a piece of wood. He can just bring it to life,” said Jeff Maierhofer of the family’s new dining table created from a fallen black walnut tree that stood near the Maierhofer home since the late 1800s. 

Following the tornado Drake Stuedemann, a rural Seneca native, of Drake Woodworking approached Maierhofer, whom he had known for years, asking if he could get some of the fallen trees for future projects. 

“We got together, and he gave me this tree and we made a deal,” Stuedemann said while applying the first coat of oil to the table this past spring.

The project has been years in the making, from cutting as much of the tree that could be salvaged, to milling and drying the wood.

In January, Maierhofer met with Stuedemann to select the boards that would work best for what has become the Seneca Dining Table No. 2. The table features a pair of bookended boards with a live edge on the two long sides, wooden bowties securing the center seam and glass inserts where knots and limbs have left hollow areas in the trunk. Near the joints along the table’s base, dark stains can be found from where nails were once in the tree, staining the wood as the steal oxidized.

When Maierhofer surprised his father, Jim Maierhofer, with the finished table for Father’s Day during a family party, Jim and his brother Rudy sat around the table and shared stories from their youth and how they had pounded in those nails nearly 80 years ago and reminisced of picking up and shucking humongous walnuts every other year. 

“It was really quite emotional,” Jim Maierhofer said of that June morning in 2016. “The destruction of what took place was in a matter of seconds. And when they told me what happened to the tree, it kind of got ya.” 

As for when he saw the table for the first time, Jim admits he “couldn’t hold it together” regarding his emotions. 

“You don’t realize the significance that a tree has in your childhood until you have a reason to remember,” Stuedemann said as he recounted watching the Maierhofer brothers reminisce around the table.

The table now resides in “Jimmy’s Lounge,” a family room built in the corner of a large machine shed that was built on the six-generation farm following the tornado.

“For me it helped provide some closure — kind of brought it full circle,” Jeff Maierhofer said of the table. “I expected something rectangle with some nice grain in it. What I have is something artistic that has some natural curves to it … I had no idea we would have something this big, this incredible, from this disaster.” 

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