By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The “Beacon of Hope Tornado Memorial” constructed by Freeman Health System will be unveiled and dedicated this month.
A ceremony is slated for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, on the grounds at 32nd Street and McIntosh Circle Drive.
“Given the magnitude of everything that occurred on the night of the tornado and for months afterward, we felt it was very important to pay tribute to a number of entities: the victims, those who survived the storm and all of the caregivers who did everything in their power to save the community after the storm,” said Paula Baker, president and CEO of the health system. “Nobody was unaffected. Whether it was a survivor, a doctor, a nurse or a volunteer who came to help, no matter who they are, they were touched by the devastation” that befell Joplin on May 22, 2011.
The EF-5 tornado took 161 lives and injured hundreds more.
The hospital’s emergency room, which has 41 beds, was already nearly full that afternoon, Baker said.
“Then the storm hit and within hours, 750 people had arrived, so that night was unlike anything” that the community and its health care workers had ever experienced, she said.
That is why Freeman wanted to build a memorial.
“We need a permanent memorial because the memories are permanent,” Baker said. “We wanted to provide that special place to reflect on the bravery and heroism of that day and the days after,” as rescuers and residents searched the rubble for the missing.
The memorial has a special feature that will be unveiled at the ceremony; it is one that will allow the memorial to be seen citywide, hospital spokeswoman Christen Stark said.
The Freeman Voices, a choir of employees, will sing at the service. Baker will speak.
An employee of Freeman who was injured so badly that her supervisor did not recognize her when she was brought in for treatment will speak on behalf of Freeman employees.
“We just feel that it’s very important we provide this place to pay tribute to those who survived, the victims of the storm and those who worked so hard to keep our community alive,” Baker said. “We were very grateful to all our doctors and nurses and all of the volunteers who came to assist us that night.”
Freeman announced on the first anniversary of the tornado that it would build the memorial.