Before I can get to all of the mushy gushies about my feelings for Joplin, I feel like I need to back it up a bit and explain my transformation into a “Joplinite”
Jim and I dated all through high school and became engaged during his sophomore year of college. He received a full ride honor’s scholarship and was able to play football at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, so it was an obvious choice for him to attend school there. That didn’t give me much of a choice as to where I would be living. If I wanted to marry my sweet, loving, wonderful boyfriend, then I needed to resign myself to the fact that I would be living in Joplin, Missouri eventually. It wasn’t a thought I relished, but I was prepared to be so enamored with my man that I could happily live there.
The first time Jim brought me down to see where he had been living for the past year and a half and where I would be living with him once we got married was not a good experience. I remember it being a yucky winter day. Cold, blustery, and cloudy. He showed me the MSSU campus. He took me to eat at McDonalds. He drove me down Rangeline. And that was about all he showed me(I fear being a tour guide will never be a future profession for my dear husband). I cried majority of the 2 hour drive back to my parents house. It was an older town. Smaller than any place I had ever lived before. I couldn’t envision myself there. It wasn’t home.
Fast forward a few months. I went ahead and married that cute boy in December of 2006, halfway through his Junior year at MSSU. We moved me down to Joplin. We were renting an adorable duplex, I got a great job at a salon just down the street, I started attending Jim’s church. Newlywed bliss abounded(sort of). But, in the midst of all of that we knew that this was just a temporary home. After Jim graduated we planned for him to get a job in Kansas City and move back closer to our families. In the meantime, we would make friends, make the most of our Joplin time, and then go back home.
It’s so funny how God makes other plans for you, right?
Toward the end of Jim’s senior year he began the grueling job search. Resume after resume, interview after interview. All in KC. Nothing would come of them. At the end May, around his graduation time he decided to put in an application at Leggett & Platt. Mostly to placate the families in our church who were devastated at the prospect of us leaving. We weren’t too interested, but figured we should keep our options somewhat open since the KC plans seemed to not be panning out. The process with L&P happened so quickly. He interviewed and was called the next day. Then offered the job. With a higher pay than any place he had interviewed for in KC.
It was so clear and obvious to us what God wanted us to do. Stay in Joplin.
He took the job, and has been happily working there for 4 years now:) The summer he got the job we moved out of our duplex and bought our first house. Effectively solidifying that we were here to stay for the long run. A lot of changes happened around that time. Our church closed and we found a new church home. My salon dissolved and I found a new job at a new salon across town. We tried for a year to make a baby….and finally succeeded. But within all of that there was still this feeling of KC being “home”. I don’t know if it is because it’s where we met, where our parents lived, where we “grew up”, but even after time passed away from there it was still what we referred to as home.
Then came May 22nd, 2011.
We had just gotten to Gatlinburg, TN to spend a week at a timeshare with Jim’s family. It was about 6 in the evening and I hopped on the computer to check my facebook. My friend Amy had written on my wall to ask if we were okay in Joplin. I had no idea what she was talking about, so we turned on the tv. We put it on the Weather Channel and saw first hand everything that had happened…..to our home. Immediately, there was a shift. That was where we lived. Where we worked. Where our friends were. Where our church was. It’s terrible how a horrible tragedy can shift your perspective.
But in those initial moments, a place we hadn’t ever thought we would come to love, suddenly, instantly, was more dear to us than any place we had ever lived before.
I sat stunned.
We all prayed together for our town. We were calling and texting friends, and unable to get a hold of anyone. All of the communications were down. We didn’t know if loved ones had made it. We didn’t know if we had a house. Or a church. News started rolling in. Walmart is gone. Home Depot is gone. Chick fil a is gone. The high school. Walgreens. On and on and on. Over the next few days the death toll was rising, rising, rising. We would scour names to make sure that no one we knew was on it. The missing persons lists were endless. We couldn’t believe something like this was happening to a place we lived. That we….loved. Deeply.
We contemplated turning around immediately and going back. But with an infant and a 2 day drive we knew that our help would be too late and not enough. We knew that there would be a great need for help in the days, weeks, months to come that we could be a part of. But, those initial days, of not being there to help, praying from a far, were excruciating.
When we finally drove home nothing could have prepared us for the damage we saw. Pictures can’t do it justice. Unless you’ve seen something like this in person, you just can’t fathom the extent. Our town had been leveled. You couldn’t even remember what used to be there it was so completely gone. It looked like a war zone.
But, even within that destruction, there was so much beauty. I still remember driving down Rangeline and being bombarded with signs for “Free food” “Free Water” “Free clothes” Areas to wash your clothes, recharge your phones, to get healthcare. To see our community bonding together, working together, pulling ourselves up by our boot straps, not waiting around for someone else to help us, but doing it ourselves, was amazing to behold.
Today is the 1 year anniversary of the tornado that took 161 lives. A rare F5, multi vortex, tornado that ripped through the heart of Joplin. It’s been hard, it’s taken a lot of work, it’s going to take lots more work, to get back to how things used to be(as much as they can), but I’m so proud of our city and the work we have done in a year’s time.
At-A-Glance: State of Recovery in Joplin
3 million cubic yards of debris (1 ½ – 2 times that of the World Trade Center site on 9/11) removed within 68 days
Reopening of 420 of the 530 businesses that were destroyed or heavily damaged
Expectation that more than 90% of affected small businesses will come back
4,000 of the city’s 9,000 residential units were destroyed, 51% now under permit for rebuilding
Students returned to school on time in August 2011, with innovative temporary facilities secured for the middle and high schools
HUD announced $45 million in Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery funding for Joplin, but the Joplin Chamber’s Rob O’Brian says many key areas of the recovery plan remain unfunded
Recently, Jim and I had a discussion about where we want to live someday. And we both realized.
Joplin is our home. We have fought for, sweat over, and cried with this city. And will continue to, as long as it takes.