By Meagen Finnerty
Herald Staff Writer
WHEATLAND, FARRELL —
After 29 years, the devastation caused by the tornadoes on May 31, 1985, is no longer obvious. Passersby don’t see upturned cars, demolished homes or sheet metal and siding hanging from trees.
But the memories of those images, of the people who lost their lives and of the events that transpired that day remain clear to many who were there.
Stanley David Kostka is a name that became synonomous with those who died. Kostka, 36, was umpiring a Little League game when one of the storms hit Wheatland.
He died saving two children, Christa Warrender and Keith “Zipper” Scott.
He’s also been credited with saving 40 other people at the baseball field by alerting them to the impending danger.
A monument honoring Kostka sits along Roemer Boulevard in Farrell. The monument in Wheatland that lists tornado victims names him, as well.
Two days before the 29th anniversary of the tornado, the monument in Farrell sat bare, save for the litter strewn in front of it.
Scott, now 39, approached, setting his coffee on the ground before clearing the trash.
Warrender later credited Scott for clinging to her leg to keep her grounded after the wind tore Kostka off of the children.
But Scott insists the real hero was the man who made the decision not to leave them behind.
“I didn’t understand how he made that decision,” Scott said. “He gave up his life for me and her.”
Scott never before recounted his memories of that day. Now, he’s decided to speak out in hopes of gaining support to have Farrell’s monument moved to the Little League field, which was relocated from Wheatland to Farrell several years ago. Scott wants it to be near the children, near what Kostka enjoyed.
Kostka grabbing him that tragic day wasn’t a coincidence, Scott said. Kostka was a letter carrier, and Scott’s home was on his route. Scott remembers his mother sitting on the porch drinking coffee and chatting with Kostka.
“I would see him delivering mail, ask for rubber bands to make slingshots and little simple things like that,” Scott said.
That day, Scott was sitting in the dugout with his team hoping to wait out the storm when the tornado came into view. Kostka, who was the first-base umpire, caught sight of the twister and yelled at everyone to clear out of the way of danger.
“When the tornado came, I don’t know where I was running to, I was just running with everybody else,” Scott said. “He literally snatched me out of nowhere.”
Kostka ran to his Blazer, holding Scott under his arm; Warrender was already inside the SUV. Kostka jumped into the driver’s seat and raced down the dirt road that led to the fields. Trees surrounding the road blocked the view of the approaching storm.
“But once you got out of that dirt road, that’s when everything opened up,” Scott recalled. “Once he came out of there, he was able to see the path of the tornado.”
That’s when Kostka pulled into a nearby trucking lot, Scott said. The three got out of the Blazer and Kostka put the children in the ditch and lay on top of them, sheltering them as best he could.
The next thing Scott remembers is being awakened by a fellow Little League player’s mom and clinging to Warrender.
“I had her foot clutched to my chest and we were holding onto each other,” Scott said.
They were taken to what is now UPMC Horizon’s hospital in Farrell, where families were being reunited.
“I remember just going to the hospital, them cutting my baseball suit off,” Scott said. “At 11 years old, that was like end of the world right there when you cut my baseball suit.”
Luckily, Scott was unharmed. However, the severity of what had happened was soon to follow.
“I realized the significance of it when I went to his funeral,” Scott said of Kostka. “At that young of an age, it was tough. I realized how serious it was then, like, I’m seeing death.”
The heaviness of the tragedy weighs on Scott’s mind every day.
“There’s people who took cover in their basements and died, and we were out and really in it,” he said. “I’ve been blessed. If it wasn’t for Dave, I wouldn’t be here today.”
After the memorial services ended and the raw emotions died down, Scott never saw Warrender again. For a while, he continued to visit Kostka’s wife, Yvonne, on the anniversary of Kostka’s death , before deciding to keep his distance.
“It started seeming like if I showed up, it was a reminder of something she might have moved on from,” he said. “I stopped going, thinking that it might be a reminder of something she didn’t want to relive.”
Scott said he plans to visit Yvonne and ask for her blessing in getting the monument moved.
“It’ll teach those kids that there’s more to it than just baseball. You got real people, you’re dealing with real people every day,” he said. “When you go to practice, you have a good time and don’t think about it, but you should appreciate every moment.”
Scott hopes to pitch the move to Farrell council at its next meeting, June 23, if he gets support from the community.
Scott makes sure to spend time at the new fields and lend a hand where he can, with Kostka’s memory pushing him every day.
“I help out with” the kids, he said. “I go down to the new field they have and watch the games there. I mean, it means a lot to me.”
Scott coaches the minor league team for 8-years-olds in the Farrell-Wheatland League.
“That’s why I coach,” Scott said. “If there’s anything he would be proud of for saving me, it would be that I’m still kind of in the shoes he was in playing baseball, what he loved to do at that time.”
The league he coaches for is the same one he once played in, the same one Kostka once umpired for.