Robert Lewis renovated an ill-used MidTown building last year, transforming it from a greasy spoon diner into a chic pied-a-terre.
He even added an equally cosmopolitan upstairs rental unit — but he never know how glad he'd be for those extra living quarters until May 20, when he was able to offer it to a tornado-displaced colleague and his family.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dan Dashiell, based since 2005 at Tinker Air Force Base, was taking May 20 off to help a friend near Shawnee repair a fence damaged in a tornado the previous day.
“My wife started texting me about the storm,” Dashiell said, but he kept working “till I looked up and could see those clouds.”
Racing home, Dashiell saw clouds circulating and knew it was forming over Newcastle.
West of Sooner Road he parked and, looking southwest, watched the twister chew across what he feared was his neighborhood.
When it had crossed Interstate 35, Dashiell, headed for home.
The Dashiells lived about 100 yards from Plaza Towers Elementary School, where his children attended.
Dashiell said he knew his daughter, Olivia, would already be home, but he wasn't sure about his son, Chase.
Torn between where to go first — the collapsed gymnasium at Plaza Towers or the pile of rubble where his house had stood — “I went with what I knew,” Dashiell said.
It took guesswork to determine the exact location of the family's storm shelter. Shouting through two or three feet of debris, Dashiell could hear his wife Melissa's voice.
“I asked if she had Chase,” Dashiell recalled. When Melissa confirmed that both kids were with her, he said, “My heart just leapt with joy.”
The Dashiells bought the home in 2005 not knowing it was “in the path of the 1999 tornado,” Melissa Dashiell said.
“We wanted a shelter, but couldn't afford one.”
Then in 2010, with a heftier-than-expected tax refund in hand, the Dashiells made the decision that could very well have saved their lives, installing a below-ground shelter under their garage.
May 20 was the third time the family had sought refuge in the shelter, having previously offered space to as many as “six adults, three children, a dog and a turtle,” Dan Dashiell said.
After literally digging out several neighbors from the ruins of their homes, Dashiell helped with the rescue efforts at Plaza Towers Elementary until first responders arrived at the scene.
The Dashiells were connected with Rob Lewis through their commander at Tinker. Lewis had a two-bedroom apartment open and available on the top floor of the MidTown building he had renovated in 2012 at 711 N Hudson. The Dashiells arrived to find “food, clothing and toys for the kids” waiting for them.
“Rob and the whole squadron really took care of us,” Melissa said.
The Dashiell family spent nearly two weeks with Lewis before moving into temporary housing at Tinker. They will move to a permanent home there at the end of June.