The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 18, 2012

Memorial walk to mark one year of unity after Joplin tornado

By Debby Woodin

JOPLIN, Mo. — A Walk of Unity planned in observance of the first anniversary of the deadly May 22 tornado will span 3.7 miles through what will become Joplin’s future.

“One year. One community. One direction” is the theme of the tornado anniversary observance, said Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, at a meeting Wednesday attended by about two dozen people representing organizations that plan to participate.

But the route of the walk will take people to at least three future landmarks in the city’s rebuilding.

The walk will start at 2:30 p.m. May 22 in the south parking lot of the Wal-Mart store at 15th Street and Range Line Road and will proceed west.

“We’ll be walking into the wind,” Tuttle said, a reference to the 200-plus mph winds that churned west to east while destroying or damaging thousands of homes and businesses, including the Wal-Mart where event participants are invited to gather at 2 p.m. that day. The tornado was blamed for 161 deaths.

Those who want to participate may go the whole way or join in for whatever distance they wish at any point along the route, Tuttle said. Walkers will be led to 22nd Street and Indiana Avenue, where they stop to witness a steeple being placed on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the city’s 28 churches destroyed by the twister. “That’s something where kids will say years later they remember the day,” Tuttle said. The church is across from the former Joplin High School, which also was destroyed in the storm.

Walkers will journey across the athletic practice fields of the former high school to 22nd Street and Iowa Avenue, where a groundbreaking ceremony will take place for construction of the new high school, Tuttle said.

“The stops are events in motion, taking not more than 20 minutes,” he said. “There will not be a lot of fanfare at the groundbreaking” so people can move on down the route.

Another stop is planned at the former site of Irving Elementary School on West 26th Street. Children’s activities are planned as a remembrance of the schools damaged or lost, and the tornado’s littlest victims.

The plan calls for the walkers to arrive about 5 p.m. at Cunningham Park, in time for a 5:15 p.m. ceremony and a moment of silence at 5:41 p.m., which is the time city emergency workers received the first damage report of the mammoth storm. The last of 161 trees is to be planted there that day as a memorial to those who died.

“We’re looking for a few informal things to do at Cunningham after the ceremony,” Tuttle said, but people will be encouraged to scatter to their own personal observances, such as neighborhood gatherings or block parties, or to visit places that are special to them. “We are working on how to get people back to 15th and Range Line” to their vehicles, Tuttle said. A shuttle system is being planned.

Duquesne will be included in the event. A group of people representing Duquesne — such as Joplin fire Chief Mitch Randles, who lost his home in Duquesne — will gather about 2 p.m. that day at the roundabout intersection at 20th Street and Duquesne Road to walk to the Wal-Mart gathering. Tuttle said a large contingent of walkers is not planned there because the streets are too narrow for a large group to walk the route safely.

Groups are being asked to fly kites, let loose balloons, hold up pinwheels or blow bubbles — anything that can go up in the air — at locations edging the route of the walk. Members of groups also are asked to wear shirts identifying their organizations. Banners are discouraged, though, because they become obstacles in large crowds, Tuttle said.

The weather could be a factor, Tuttle said. If there are light rain showers that afternoon, the walk will go on. But, if there is lightning with rain or full-blown thunderstorms, the walk will be postponed and only the Cunningham Park ceremony will take place.

More details will be worked out and announced as planning continues. Tuttle said he intends to release a firm plan two weeks before the anniversary date.

Contact details

GROUPS THAT WANT TO PARTICIPATE or offer suggestions for activities may call the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau at 625-4789.