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New Year Hero


A young North Dakota girl was honored in Illinois on this date in 1955 for saving the lives of her two sisters at the start of the New Year. Both her sisters and parents were grateful that the girl, 10-year-old Toni Hundley from Mohall, North Dakota, had a habit of being a night owl, especially when it came to New Year’s Eve.

To celebrate the holiday that year, the Hundley’s had traveled to Aurora, Illinois, to visit Mrs. Hundley’s parents. Young Toni, as was her habit, welcomed in the New Year by staying up all night. Her two sisters and younger brother, meanwhile, slept in a guest room. Her sister Joan was not yet two, and her sister Jean was only four months old. Their brother Steven, five years old, slept beside the two girls.

The parents, Mr. and Mrs. Arlo Hundley, left the house for a nearby New Year’s Eve celebration shortly after putting the younger children to bed. Early to bed and early to rise, Toni’s grandfather, Ole Tweeden, had retired earlier in the evening. Her grandmother, Inez Tweeden, stayed up for some time with her granddaughter, but eventually also fell asleep.

Just as Toni herself began to drift off, she noticed a funny smell. Investigating, she wandered through the house until she came to the door of the guest bedroom where her three siblings lay sleeping. Here, she quickly detected that the mysterious smell was in fact smoke, and it was pouring from beneath the door. Without thinking, she screamed for help and ran into the room. Grabbing both of her baby sisters, young Toni summoned all of her strength to carry the two children out of the home to safety. Her grandmother, meanwhile, had awoken to Toni’s cries for help, and managed to retrieve the third sleeping child, five-year old Steven.

Once outside, all of the family members, including Grandpa Ole, were accounted for. Firefighters arrived and put out the fire before it destroyed the house. The fire department later reported that the fire had broken out from a faulty lamp cord in the guest bedroom. Although damages were estimated to be about $850, both Ole and Inez Tweeden were grateful that only their home was damaged, and that their grandchildren were safe.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Saturday, December 30, 1922 (Evening ed.): pp.1, 2.