Roger Luther, left, an elder at the Second Presbyterian Church in Portsmouth, traveled to Dayton on Friday to pick up a diary of former church member Lena O’Mara, which was deposited by a tornado in the yard of Linda Porter, right. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Diary found after tornado ‘going home’

Though its location before Memorial Day remains a mystery, a decades-old diary deposited into an Old North Dayton yard by a tornado will now be cared for by a church the writer attended for most of her life.

An elder from the Second Presbyterian Church in Portsmouth arrived Friday in Dayton to pick up Lena O’Mara’s diary, which has been in the care of Evans Bakery owners Jennifer Evans and Matt Tepper.

“It’s kind of touching, not only did the church seem to be a big part of her life, but the church realizes she was part of the church,” Tepper said.

FIRST REPORT: Where, how tornado picked up woman’s diary a mystery

Roger Luther, a session committee member at the Portsmouth congregation, said an article in the Dayton Daily News about the mysterious find piqued his and other church leaders’ interest in obtaining the diary.

On Friday, Luther brought along church records that show O’Mara, who was born in 1915, was a member of the church from at least 1923 until her death in 2003.

The diary will be at the church as it celebrates its 145th anniversary on Feb. 9. The leather-bound volume documenting O’Mara’s life from 1981 to 1985 will go into a case and displayed permanently with other church artifacts, Luther said.

Linda Porter said her son-in-law found the diary in her Leo Street yard right after the Memorial Day tornadoes.

“I was half afraid to mess with it,” Porter said. “Water was just running out of it.”

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Walking the Path of the Storm

Over several months, Porter gently dried the diary, no more than four inches wide by five tall.

“I just stuck it in a room near where the air conditioner vent was,” she said. “Then every day I would flip a few more pages and eventually it dried out.

Porter looked behind the cover and found an inscription naming the diarist. O’Mara wrote that the diary was a Christmas gift from her mother in 1980.

O’Mara dutifully made entries in the diary nearly every day, often observing the weather and noting who she visited or who visited her. On Feb. 26, 1982, she marked her own mother’s death.

After the pages dried, Porter turned the diary over to Tepper, hoping the Old North Dayton Neighborhood Association president would have better luck reuniting the journal with its keeper.

“If I had lost something like that, I would want it back. That was my goal,” Porter said. “I didn’t want a bunch of froufrou fanfare, I just wanted Matt to find whoever it belongs to and make sure it got home.”

Porter nor Evans nor Tepper are any closer to knowing where it came from.

“We have absolutely no idea,” Porter said.

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All involved with the search for the owner, as well as a third cousin of O’Mara’s who contacted Evans and Tepper, believe the diary was purchased at an estate sale at some point and ended up in a box in somebody’s house or attic caught in the tornado’s path.

A record-setting 16 tornadoes swept across the western part of Ohio on Memorial Day night, including the EF4 twister that passed through Old North Dayton carrying with it — presumably — O’Mara’s diary.

A background check conducted by the Dayton Daily News showed that O’Mara, who died in Scioto County, had no living descendants. Her mother’s 1982 obituary, though, indicates O’Mara likely had several cousins.

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Luther said he recognized the name of a former church pastor and other members from diary entries recounted in the newspaper story. A friend of O’Mara’s named Bootsie has died. He wants to show the diary to another of her friends named Cindy, who is alive but in a nursing home.

If an O’Mara relative is identified who wants the diary, the church will gladly part with it, Luther said.

“If the family members show up it reverts to them,” he said. “That’s what I want. Everybody’s in agreement with me. That’s where it should be.”

The diary may not be going back to an owner or relative, but it is going where it belongs, Tepper said.

“It’s going home. That’s what we want,” he said.

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