By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Perth, Australia, is 10,677 flight miles from Joplin, but the distance didn’t stop people who live there from raising funds for tornado relief.
Spurred on by Webb City native Cora Nichols, a group of her 20 co-workers collected more than $300 to send to Rebuild Joplin.
Nichols, 32, attended Eugene Field Elementary School and graduated from Webb City High School. After earning degrees at the University of Wisconsin and the University of North Carolina, she returned to Webb City for a year to be with family and started Cooking for a Cause at the Webb City Farmers Market.
A job offer as an environmental engineer in New Zealand took her to the Southern Hemisphere; in 2007, she moved to Perth to work for the Australian corporation Sinclair Knight Merz.
Nichols recalls being nearly nine months pregnant last year when she went to a coffee shop near her home and happened to glance at the morning paper.
It was May 23.
“I was quite surprised when I saw Joplin in the news, and quickly read the article on a devastating tornado. I rushed home to call my family, but could not get a phone connection. So I got on the computer, and was relieved to find out that our family had been spared,” she said.
When she finally reached her family on May 24, her mother, Eileen Nichols, of Webb City, was gathering everyone to a safe place as another round of bad storms was predicted.
“Naturally, I was very concerned for family and friends when I heard about the tornado. I was relieved to learn my family was safe, but with that assurance, I also learned about the devastating impacts on many friends and others in the community,” Cora Nichols said.
Those friends included Don Lansaw, who lost his life protecting his wife, Bethany, from the tornado.
There is a 13-hour time difference between Perth and Joplin: Cora Nichols’ family is nearing midmorning about the time she is preparing for bed in Perth.
There also is a population difference: Billed by city leaders as the “dynamic capital city” in the nation’s fastest-growing state, Perth serves as a premier destination for business, nightlife, culture and the arts, catering to some 110,000 daily visitors.
But it has more in common with Joplin than one might think. Like Joplin, Perth is supportive of arts and culture, and mining played a key in its founding and growth. In fact, like Joplin, the city uses the word “Boom” in one of its attractions: The Boom or Bust Trail is a historic walk that highlights the “boom” created by gold mining and subsequent growth and prosperity.
The city also likes the phrase “Show Me,” the slogan it chose for its newest website, showmeperth.com.au.
When Nichols returned to Webb City last September, she found Joplin’s landscape completely unrecognizable.
“I watched out the car window in awe as my father gave us a tour of the tornado-impacted areas. The trees looked like huge barren sticks in wide open fields,” Nichols said.
Nichols said people at SKM, where there is a strong corporate social responsibility program in place that includes a monthly charity collection, wanted to help.
“I knew I wanted to share the impact of this devastating tornado and the positive attitude in rebuilding our community with my colleagues,” Nichols said.
She recently had the opportunity, and through the contributions of colleagues, raised $310 to send to Rebuild Joplin.
Long trip home
Traveling between Joplin and Perth is one of the longest trips one can make on Earth. The flight, starting at the Joplin Airport and continuing through Dallas-Fort Worth, Brisbane, Australia, and finally Perth, is 36 hours long including layovers. The return, nonstop from Sydney, Australia, to Dallas-Fort Worth, clocks in at 15 hours and 25 minutes, making it the third-longest flight in the world.