"In one fell swoop you said goodbye to your childhood."
The Pilger native returned to see the devastation left by twin tornadoes.
"Churches where I was baptized and confirmed, and school I went to, bank where my dad worked for 40 years, library, every memory of a childhood that landmark is now gone," she said.
Rathke says the debris is starting to disappear too.
She said, "What they've been able to do to clean up roads and homes, literally tear down buildings in a week's time is unreal, but we almost need that kind of a blitz to rebuild."
Gov. Dave Heineman says several state agencies are there, but credits Nebraskans helping Nebraskans.
He said, "I was there again Saturday, think we had close to 2,000 volunteers, have had volunteers from every state, it's what Nebraskans are doing for other Nebraskans. I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, you're making a real difference."
Heineman was in Grand Island Monday to thank state employees. Charitable giving to agencies like the United Way is up. Recent storms have shown needs statewide.
"We have these tornadoes in central Nebraska, southern Nebraska, the most devastating two in Pilger, everybody's turning out to help," he said.
Rathke says they’ve filled an auditorium with donations, and suggest giving gift cards or cash instead of clothing or household items.
United Ways have partnered to create the Pilger Recover and Rebuild fund, managed locally by residents to help those hardest hit.
The governor expects a federal disaster declaration soon, to begin rebuilding public property.
Heineman said, "They're resilient, we're there to help, all going to help."
It’s not the Pilger of her childhood, but Karen Rathke says the community spirit is still alive.
"I know it will be the town too tough to die and it won’t die," she said.
The United Way has set up a Facebook page and an online portal for giving.
Monetary donations can also be made at any Midwest Bank location. All donations are tax-deductible.
For those who want to donate supplies, organizers are requesting gift cards at this time to most efficiently help families meet their individual needs. As most current efforts are focused on hauling items away from the disaster area, it is easier to handle the distribution of gift cards.
Gift cards can be sent to Midwest Bank, c/o Pilger Relief & Rebuild Fund, 114 W. Main St., Pierce, NE 68767.