By Kathy Mason
I would like to share about a group that is very important to me. However, before I begin, I must tell you a little bit about the past to “set the stage.”
My sister, Sally, lived in Belleville, Ill., for a number of years until her life changed with several events in 2010. She lost her job in February, then lost our mother (her best friend) in March and then lost her home in October.
Crippled with depression and social anxiety, she had nearly become a hermit. Because of her circumstances she had no choice but to move. As her younger sister, I remembered her lively “character-filled personality” and convinced her to move to Joplin. She was a bit concerned because of watching the weather reports about Joplin. I assured her that the St. Louis news reported what path they thought the weather would take, however our magic line of defense was where Interstate 44 and the state lines met.
The weather always seemed to go north or south when it approached that fork in the road. Comforted with this knowledge, she moved in with my husband and me for a few months before she found a place of her own. During that time we had an ice storm and a ton of snow. We would laugh about how “Joplin” never gets this kind of weather.
I persuaded her to go check out Stained Glass Theater. She not only checked it out, but also tried out for and got a part in a play. My sister was coming alive before my eyes again. She was laughing more, getting out more and doing what I had always had known she was born to do — act.
However, on May 22, 2011, a day Joplin and the world will never forget, my sister died at Stained Glass Theater. She had just finished her last performance as the “Bossy Aunt Jenny” in the production of “I Remember Mama.” The show had just ended and the cast was tearing down the set when the tornado struck the theater.
Many have heard the story of how the majority of the 52 people in the building made it to the basement or the stairwell before the tornado ripped the theater to pieces. Several people were injured and two people (Sally and another patron) died instantly. Several days later, the director died from injuries received from the tornado.
This brings me to what I wanted to share. Stained Glass Theater has been a group of incredible individuals. Within a week, the members that could gather at the site invited my family and Sally’s only child (who came from New York) to join them to answer any questions and pray with us. They helped my niece put together a memorial service at Mount Hope Christian Church. My niece felt it was important for not only our family (who would not be able to make it to Mascoutah, Ill., for the funeral and burial at Jefferson Barracks) but also for the Stained Glass Theater family. At the one-year anniversary, Stained Glass Theater members once again gathered at the site and shared memories and prayers. They again embraced my niece who had come for a visit. They shared interviews with her for her college paper. They invited us all to the meet-and-greet they held after the Unity Walk and gathering at Cunningham Park. They gave my niece a “Director’s Choice” award for her mother’s role in “I Remember Mama.” Since Sally was unable to receive it for herself, they saved it for her daughter. The members have been kind to me through the past year and a half as well. When I finally allowed myself to grieve, they helped by giving me the liberty to hand out flyers to churches about their Christmas play. I have learned that part of grief is not only remembering the past but getting to the point that you can move forward to the hopes of the future.
My “personal” hopes lie in the future of my two beautiful grandchildren and two more on the way.
I pray for the people of Stained Glass Theater. I pray that Joplin and other communities see that this group lives by its mission statement and is worthy of a “new home.” I pray that people and agencies donate to the rebuilding of the theater. I hope and pray that others will get a chance to know how wonderful this group of individuals is through their donation of time and talent to serving God through theater. You see, with the rebuilding of Stained Glass Theater, not only will future generations learn about the beauty of art and theater, but the memories of my sister, the director and the patron who died will live forever.
Kathy Mason lives in Joplin.