JOPLIN, Mo. —
“Big Fat Lies” is the name of the game.
Usually, the men and women square off against each other, said Randy Stanley, who has served as a game moderator of sorts. The game, developed by Mental Floss magazine, is a deceptive trivia game. Two statements are read, and players must sniff out the false one.
The game has led to lots of laughs among an ever-growing crowd of people at the Residence Inn in Joplin. It made a great excuse to bring people together in a new neighborhood of people already brought together by tragedy, Stanley said.
“Someone from Chicago asked us the reason for this, why we would all want to get together,” Stanley said. “When he found out the reason, he said that this doesn’t happen in Chicago. If something happens, everyone goes their separate ways, and they don’t try to bond.”
Granted, not everyone in the crowd wants to play. Some are more interested in talking with each other and catching up.
That’s what neighbors do, said Mark Drew.
“It’s amazing how close knit we’ve become,” Drew said. “I didn’t know any of these people before.”
Stanley, 60, is an accountant who works for a private investment group. Drew, 55, is the chief engineer at the Residence Inn in Joplin. They are two of dozens of people who have become good neighbors amidst forced circumstances.
The Stanleys and Drews didn’t know each other before the tornado, but their survival stories are similar.
The Stanleys lived at 2540 Minnesota and rode the storm out in a hallway. The hall turned into a wind tunnel of debris, and they tried to hold on to their cat, which got scared and ran away.
“The smoke alarm was going off and I smelled gas,” Judy said. “My ears were popping and I was yelling, ‘I don’t want to die.’”
A rigid structure of strong toolshelves kept their garage intact. Randy was able to find a wrench in a tool pouch so he could shut off the gas. The relatively short trip was tricky -- Randy had to dodge wires and other debris.
It wasn’t until after he shut off the gas that he looked around.
“I looked off west and thought, ‘Oh God,’” he said.
Mark and Janet Drew lived to the west, at 3030 Oliver. Their house and a rental house for their daughter and son-in-law were situated on three acres of property.
When the tornado hit, Janet, 53, was in the basement of Blendville Christian Church. Mark was at home with his daughter, son-in-law and their dog. He was watching news about the storm; when the power went out, he heard the raging winds.
They dashed into a utility room by a washer and dryer. When the tornado hit, it pushed a wall on top of the two appliances, where the three crouched.
“That made a cocoon for us,” Mark said, fighting back tears. “Not a scratch on us. My arms were bruised from holding on to them and the dog.”
The Stanleys went to Residence Inn that night. It took about three hours for Mark and Janet to reunite. After spending a night with parents, they made it to the hotel the next day.
“We got here the next morning, and the general manager was amazed,” Mark said. “He said that he knew where I lived at, and that he knew he’d never see me again because of the destruction of the storm.”
Most of the guests at the hotel have similar stories. Mark said he guessed that about 90 percent of the hotels guests over the first few months after the storm were survivors.
Home sweet hotel
Part of the Marriott hospitality chain, Residence Inn caters to people who plan on staying a while. All the suites have separate areas for sleeping, working, relaxing and eating.
Randy and Judy have one of the one-bedroom suites. They have a bedroom, living room, two TVs, a little kitchen, patio and bathroom.
“It’s about 500 square feet,” Randy said. “It’s like a one bedroom apartment.”
Judy, 60, said they have done things where they could to make the space feel like home.
“Some of the stuff that makes it look like a hotel, I took all that stuff out and put it in a shoebox,” Judy said. “I wanted it to look more like an apartment. We also have our own placemats, candles and things like that.”
Mark and Janet have raised their daughter in a suite as she completes her senior year at Joplin High School’s mall-based campus. The friends made have contributed to her upbringing, Janet Drew said.
“She’s been adopted by some pretty good people,” she said. “She’s grown up a lot.”
The families have lived their lives in the suites. They endured frustrations with construction projects, shared holiday meals and other celebrations.
Judy said the staff has gone out of their way to make them feel at home as well, and that’s because they treat each other as more than co-workers.
“They treat each other more like good friends and help each other,” she said. “I can tell they get along really well.”
Another good thing about the hotel: They allow pets. The Stanley’s cat survived the tornado and lives with them in the suite. Pets have also helped hotel guests bond, especially those with dogs.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people from walking my dog,” said Mary Kay Thompson, 68, who survived the tornado with her husband, Todd Thompson.
The close quarters have sent the Stanleys, Drews and Thompsons to the hotel’s lounge areas, where they have become good friends. Because of Mark Drew’s job, Judy Stanley loves teasing him about how she’s absolutely certain that the dryers shrink her clothes, for instance. They recognize passers-by, who are now a mix of tornado victims and regular guests.
In the space of an hour during an interview with the Globe, the group greeted several people walking in and out of the building.
People of all different backgrounds and economic levels have been bonded together, Mary Kay said, and become a large, extended family. She said that it was surprising, yet natural, how well everyone fit in.
Mark and Janet agreed.
“This is like a land of misfits,” Janet Drew said. “All kinds of different people have come together for the same reason here.”
It has also helped siblings get to know each other better -- Mary Kay is Randy’s older sister.
“I never knew him too well,” Mary Kay Thompson said. “By the time I was married, he was still in grade school.”
As much as the hotel feels like home, it’s not.
The Stanley’s home insurance company has paid for the cost of the stay, and will stop after Tuesday’s anniversary, Randy said. In a few days, they will move into a rebuilt home on their Minnesota property.
Mark and Janet are also rebuilding. Where the Stanleys hired a contractor, Mark is building his new home himself, just like he built the one that was destroyed.
“I built the original house in ’89,” Mark Drew said. “It’s tough for me to turn over a key and say ‘Build something’ to someone else.”
The Thompsons have more of a wait. The construction process hasn’t gone as smoothly for them -- they hope to move into a rebuilt home in September.
Though they will leave the hotel, they’ll be back for more trivia games and talking. Randy said reunions are being planned.
“We’re going to miss it here,” Randy Stanley said. “I talked to the manager and said that we ought to have reunions. He said he’s kept records, so that sounds like it will happen.”
JOPLIN, Mo. —
“Big Fat Lies” is the name of the game.
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