JOPLIN, Mo. —
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon accepted the title of Freeman Fellow on Thursday, in honor of his work on behalf of Freeman Health System and the Joplin area in the wake of the May 22, 2011, tornado.
The governor was made the seventh Freeman Fellow, the health system’s highest honor, in ceremonies led by Paula Baker, Freeman president and CEO, and attended by physicians and other staff members.
Baker said Nixon’s frequent trips to the hospital and other Joplin sites since the tornado have been a reminder that the state will not forget about Joplin and the challenges ahead.
“You have provided support and resources and — most importantly — hope that our community will rise up once again,” she said.
She and Nixon unveiled a Freeman Fellow display in the Freeman Hospital West lobby.
In accepting the honor, Nixon praised the staff of Freeman for helping people in the Joplin area in the aftermath of the tornado and throughout the health system’s tenure in Joplin.
“Many lives were lost in the tornado. Many thousands were injured,” he said. “But many more were healed because of the truly heroic work done by the people in this room. Because of your skill and resilience, your courage and compassion, the story of the Joplin tornado is not only a story of terrible calamity and suffering, but also a story of hope.”
Nixon’s assistance to Freeman, Baker noted, included securing $2 million in state funds to help Freeman and Ozark Center establish Will’s Place, a healing center for children struggling with trauma, and supporting passage of legislation that requires insurance coverage for families using sites such as Ozark Center’s Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism.
She said other help from the state, under Nixon’s leadership, included establishing a one-stop center where residents could get state help after the tornado, securing nearly $100 million from the Missouri Housing Development Commission for housing construction, ensuring that debris removal costs were largely paid by state and federal funds, and initiatives that helped rebuild playgrounds and build new Habitat for Humanity houses.
Baker said Nixon, in the 90-year history of the hospital, becomes the seventh person to receive the hospital’s highest honor. Two other honorees, former state Sen. Gary Nodler and Leland Browne Jr., former chairman of the Freeman board of directors, were on hand for the ceremony.
Other Freeman Fellow honorees are former state Sen. Richard Webster, former U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, J.T. Jones and Myron McIntosh.
GOV. JAY NIXON, who has made frequent trips to Joplin in the wake of the 2011 tornado, said the most lasting impressions of the storm have been “its scope and strength, which was stunning, and the strength and resilience of the people here, which has been inspirational.”