HEROD, IL (KFVS) - Herod, Illinois is described by its residents as a wide spot in the road. A place you pass through on your way to the remarkable Garden of the Gods or the Shawnee National Forest. A town so small, there is no population count on the signs that mark its boundaries.
But for Dennis and Ann Ferrell, the wide spot in the road has been home for most of their lives. Dennis' parents settled in Herod in 1928 and opened R.E. Ferrell General Merchandise.
"They sold everything," Dennis said, "shoes, tools, groceries."
The family lived in a house across the street. Dennis worked in the store as a kid but had no interest in taking over the family business. It's a decision he doesn't regret. Just like the decision he made to marry Ann in 1958.
"I guess we struggled at first. You know at the time, it didn't seem like we were, " remembered Ann, "but when you look back now. I guess we did."
The couple had one son, Dennis Jay.
They built their house a stone's throw away from where the old store was once located and from Route 34. A busy road where coal trucks run around the clock every day except Sundays.
"I'm used to it," insisted Dennis.
How could he not be? Dennis spent a good chunk of his life in a tractor or on a combine. He and his dad, and then his son, farmed hundreds of acres here. Retirement came just six years ago.
"I miss farming," Dennis said.
These days, he runs a big machinery business and when he feels like it, he works digging ditches, pulling out tree stumps or putting up a fence.
Dennis and Ann both have a good sense of humor and know that in life, that'll help you get by those early struggles, those silly arguments, even a bizarre chainsaw accident that cost Dennis half of a finger.
Yes, life had been good to Ann and Dennis. Until February 29, 2012. Just before dawn, when the skies were still dark and almost everyone was asleep, a tornado roared through southern Illinois. Eight people were killed in a Harrisburg neighborhood. Physically, the tornado never came near Herod, but emotionally, it ripped the Ferrell's house apart. The youngest victim, 22-year-old Jaylynn Ferrell was Dennis and Ann's first grandchild, their only granddaughter.
"She was just a good ol' girl," Dennis choked out between tears, "I really can't talk about it."
Jaylynn was a nurse at Harrisburg's hospital. She moved into her apartment four months before the tornado struck.
"I think she was asleep when it hit, " Ann said, "at least I hope she was. I hope she didn't know what hit her."
Like Dennis, it's hard for Ann to talk about Jaylynn and it always will be.
And so it's come to be that after 72 years of a happy, "uneventful" life as they could call it, that fate dealt it's cruelest blow.
The wide spot in the road has witnessed the Ferrell's life over the years. Family business. Family farm. Family tragedy. They're all part of Dennis and Ann's remarkable, unremarkable lives.