Meet the people who braved the Blizzard of 1978 to broadcast on the radio and run wreckers in the havoc

It’s almost surprising Joe Patrick and Tom Borgerding didn’t meet 40 years ago today.

They could’ve met in a snowbank, because Borgerding was driving to work and Patrick was operating a 24-hour wrecker service.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Blizzard of 1978, the worst winter storm in Ohio history. Also known as the White Hurricane, the historic winter storm struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions from Wednesday, Jan. 25 through Friday, Jan. 27, 1978.

Patrick and Borgerding — and anyone old enough to remember 1978 — certainly won’t forget that time in Ohio history. Schools were cancelled throughout the region, and classes at Ohio State University and the University of Notre Dame were canceled for the first time in their histories; and at Miami University for the first time since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“Most significant day of my career,” said Borgerding, then news director at WPFB radio in Middletown. “It was a real storm.”

The night before the blizzard, Borgerding’s wife, Vicki, warned him of the pending storm, but since it was raining at the time, he “brushed off” his wife, he said. When he woke up at 4:30 a.m. — 30 minutes before he was due at work — he realized his wife was right.

“The picture windows were rattling,” said Borgerding, who retired from WOSU in Columbus and now lives in Westerville.

He debated whether to risk driving to work. He didn’t want to leave his wife and their two children at the time, a 4-year-old daughter, Alyson, and 4-month-old son, Andrew.

Borgerding, who oversaw a five-person news staff, said it took him about an hour to make the two-mile drive from his home on Bellemonte Street to the radio station off Central Avenue. As he pulled down the long drive, he could barely see the radio station in the distance because of the blowing storm fueled by the 65 to 70 mph winds. His car got stuck about 50 feet from the station’s entrance.

PHOTOS: Remember the Blizzard of 1978? Butler County was buried

People were so starved for information that he made his daily police calls on the air, and put callers on the air. Everyone had a story. Between calls, he phoned the Middletown Police Department, Butler County Sheriff’s Office and the National Weather Service.

“A great way to run a talk show,” he said with a laugh.

One caller to his show said a pregnant woman was going into labor and she lived in Jacksonburg. Borgerding called the Wayne Twp. Life Squad, and the woman had her “Blizzard Baby” en route to Middletown Hospital.

At the end of his work day, his car was snowed in so Middletown Police Chief Russ Dwyer drove him home.


» 5 things you should know about the Great Blizzard of 1978

» Butler County community remembers Great Blizzard of 1978

Borgerding was fortunate because at least he got home. Others weren’t so lucky.

When motorist got stuck, they called Joe’s Wrecker Service in Trenton. Joe Patrick’s wife, Joyce, answered the business phone, then dispatched her husband to the next stranded motorist on his pager. Remember there were no cell phones in 1978.

There were times when two wreckers weren’t enough to handle the demands, so they took the phone off the hook. When they got caught up, they put the phone back. And it started ringing instantly. Joyce Patrick sometimes drove one of the wreckers and was assisted by a 14-year-old son, Scott.

“It was something else,” said Joe Patrick, 82. “Quite a deal that storm was.”

Here’s what some others remember:

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