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Anonymous display of smile face balloons at Wheaton Park remembering the tornado from one year ago

It’s been a year since an EF-3 tornado blew through Elk Mound and Wheaton. On the anniversary of that day someone decided to make September 24 a day to remember for another reason.
Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 6:39 PM CDT
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WHEATON, Wis. (WEAU) -An unexpected message greeted Brian Gerrits, Wheaton firefighter, when he pulled into work on Thursday.

“I saw the fence, I pull over, took the picture of it and that’s when I posted it to our Facebook page saying whoever did this thank you, we really appreciate it, the firefighters and I did,” Gerrits says.

The message of hope and happiness didn’t stop at the fire department.

Joe Hemenway noticed something out of place in his yard.

“It was about 6:30... there was something round out there floating around and I didn’t know what that was so I walked out there and there was a balloon, smiley face balloon tethered to a bottle of water, and on the bottle of water it said ‘remember this day with smiles and happiness’,” Hemenway describes.

Gerrits says driving around the neighborhood he saw one balloon after another,

“We start to figure out that this was a pretty well organized project and gesture that someone or some people decided to put together.”

“I drove around the neighborhood and I saw all kinds of balloons and I thought wow, somebody put in a lot of effort to do this,” Hemenway says.

Last September an EF-3 tornado touched down in Dunn County, traveling into Chippewa County where it hit the town of Wheaton, devastating the community.

Hemenway says it was after seeing the balloons he remembered the emotional time just a short year ago.

“…and then for somebody to acknowledge that and then kind of a gentle reminder of that was pretty awesome.”

“Definitely made my day...I know there’s a lot of neighbors and people in the community who were affected by the tornado that definitely appreciated it also,” Gerrits replies.

Hemenway suspects the WFD had something to do with it, but for now it remains a mystery.

“Was a nice gesture, but it wasn’t me that did it,” Gerrits laughs.

“They won’t come clean so I don’t know who did it, I don’t know if I’ll ever know...but it was something creative and very touching to a lot of the neighbors, so whoever did it thank you,” Hemenway says.

Gerrits says security footage from the station shows people coming to create the balloon spread around 2a.m. Thursday morning, although faces cannot be made out.

Spreading smiles one balloon at a time.

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