Revisiting Joplin

Courtesy of AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Arthur Harvey

I really can’t explain it, but tornados have been following me around for a lifetime. It began with my father in the middle of the famous Worcester Tornado. He happened to be driving in the city on June 9, 1953, when a driver passed him illegally. This proved to be a fatal error as, minutes later, Vic Carozza ended up pulling this driver out of his car that had been hit by the tornado. In 1966, I had just moved to St. Louis and a tornado hit our neighborhood demolishing homes around us but sparing our domicile. And then on July 24, 2008, I was having lunch in my school’s lunch room with a fellow Principal when the now famous New Hampshire tornado tore through a number of towns, flying a mile from my house.

It is with this background that I felt connected to my friend Denise Legore, (@dlegore) Principal of one of the elementary schools in Joplin, Missouri. Her school was spared in the May 22, 2011 tornado, the deadliest in the US since 1947 and likely the most expensive. The cost to rebuild Joplin might reach $3 billion.

Right after the tornado, she wrote me:

“Thanks Bill. This is surreal. The district is accepting monetary donations. We are committed to having summer school & then restart in 84 days.”

I wrote about this in our school newsletter a week after the Joplin tragedy and my town responded. Hopkinton, NH residents sent a number of packages to Joplin via Ms. Legore and she and her students were delighted. As Denise told me in a recent email about the boxes of stuffed animals, books, and cards:

I can tell you that all the goodies went to the kids from one of my summer schools who lost everything – nothing warms your heart like kids scrambling to get books and stuffed animals! I know the kids provided good homes for their newest treasures!

Denise also gave me a very positive view of Joplin’s progress:

We are doing well. The start of the school year has been very smooth and I really feel that it is like we never left – kids and staff. The town is really starting to see growth and repair. It is still very surreal to drive within the rubble but I’m moved constantly by the spirit and support we have received.

It is a more stressful year than average at Harold Martin School. Our school population is larger than ever and our space is as tight as I have seen it. Nonetheless, we work hard to maintain a thankful spirit for the great children we have been entrusted with and a community that has consistently supported education. We do not share the unimaginable stresses that Joplin has been through.  When we continue to support those less fortunate, through our local food pantry, our civic or church organizations, or in special circumstances such as natural disasters, we do more than help others. We grow a more positive perspective and develop an energy to move beyond ourselves.