Kelly Boldan: The storms of Memorial Day 2022 struck hard and close to home in Poplar Township

The Memorial Day storm in 2022 that swept across South Dakota and Minnesota struck multiple communities and came close to home for West Central Tribune editor Kelly Boldan.

Poplar Cemetery sign on May 20, 2023
Friends and family leave following the interment service of Scott A. Johnson on May 20, 2023, at the Poplar Cemetery in southern Cass County. A new Poplar Cemetery sign has been created and placed upon the cemetery's stone pillars. In 2022, Johnson shot video of the serious tree damage at the Poplar Cemetery.
Kelly Boldan / West Central Tribune

POPLAR CEMETERY — Memorial Day serves to honor and mourn the U.S. military personnel who died serving in our country. The places they are laid to rest — abroad or at home — are considered sacred ground.

So it is at my home community's Poplar Cemetery near Leader, Minnesota, where four World War II soldiers — Lloyd Luiten, Harold Collison, Alvin Frances DeWald and Robert Wiebesick — are remembered each year on Memorial Day. Many of my ancestors, family and community members are also buried there.

People gather at this rural cemetery for Memorial Day service each May in the hundreds. In 2022, the tornado came just hours after the ceremony ended.

I was following the weather as the weekend editor at the West Central Tribune in Willmar on May 30, 2022. That morning, the Tribune posted a Memorial Day forecast for an afternoon of thunderstorms and possible tornadoes for Minnesota. The National Weather Service's forecast held true that Monday.

A strong low-pressure system tracked out of Nebraska into eastern South Dakota and spawned multiple tornadoes there. Then a severe thunderstorm system developed and pushed the storm system to the northeast into Minnesota.


A tornado first touched down near Appleton and Milan in west central Minnesota . Then a destructive tornado hit Forada and Maple Lake , south of Alexandria in Douglas County, damaging more than 70 structures. The storm continued northeastward into Todd County creating destruction in and near Eagle Bend in central Minnesota.

Map shows direction tornado's path on May 30, 2022, in Poplar Township, Cass County, Minnesta.
An EF-1 tornado traveled 4.3 miles in Poplar Township during severe weather on Monday, May 30, 2022, the National Weather Service in Duluth reported Wednesday, June 1, 2022.
Contributed / National Weather Service

A video of the Poplar Township tornado on May 30, 2022

Finally, the storm later spawned a tornado in Poplar Township in Cass County, just hours after the annual Memorial Day service. A 500-yard EF-1 tornado touched down just south of the Poplar Cemetery , knocking down many old-growth big Norways and other trees onto the cemetery. Those downed trees covered the graves of my father, brother, maternal grandparents and many other relatives. The tornado also knocked the decades-old "Poplar Cemetery" sign off its rock pillars.

This tornado was not done yet as it continued to the northeast before hitting my nephew's 80-acre farm, destroying a barn, and damaging sheds and multiple trees. Dale Wells and his teenage daughter rode out the storm in their basement.

Storm damage from a Poplar Township tornado
Damaged trees and structures on the Dale Wells farm are the result of a confirmed EF-1 tornado that occurred Monday, May 30, 2022, in Poplar Township near Leader in Cass County, Minnesota.
Contributed / Dale Wells

Then the tornado continued northeast across the section before hitting the original lilac grove on my great-grandfather George Norris Johnson's homestead, which was transplanted from Iowa about 1894. The tornado then crossed state Highway 64, and traveled into a wetland before disappearing. It had traveled for 4.3 miles.

Video of Poplar Cemetery damage on Memorial Day 2022

The Poplar community is resilient. The Poplar Township Board arranged within days for the cleanup of the cemetery's downed trees. In fact, we held an interment service for a Johnson cousin Shirley Brening and her family the next Saturday in the cleared area.

Sometimes covering the news comes too close to home.


On Monday, I'll be back in Poplar Cemetery with family and friends honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Our family and the Leader area community always remember on Memorial Day at the Poplar Cemetery.

Kelly Boldan has been editor of the West Central Tribune since 2001 and is the editorial director of Forum Communications Central Lakes Group, including the Tribune, Alexandria Echo Press and St. Cloud LIVE / Focus.

Poplar Cemetery.jpg
The location of the Poplar Cemetery in Poplar Township in Cass County, Minnesota. The cemetery is located about 20 miles north-northwest of Motley, Minnesota.
Contributed /

Kelly Boldan has been editor of West Central Tribune and in Willmar, Minnesota, since October 2001. He joined Forum Communications Co. in November 1998 as editor of the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer.
Boldan can be reached via email: or telephone: 320-214-4331.
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