By Susan Redden
Only three bathroom walls were left standing when Mary Owen’s home in south Joplin was demolished by the tornado on May 22, 2011.
High winds won’t be something the 79-year-old woman has to fear when she moves in later this week to a new house on South Bird Avenue.
The home has walls of reinforced concrete with roof ties anchored in the concrete, a design that will withstand winds of more than 200 mph and reduce heating and cooling costs by at least 50 percent.
Owen was ill on Tuesday, so her daughter, Deloris Spurgeon, of Carl Junction, was on hand for a ceremony to accept the keys to the house from officials of Convoy of Hope, which helped finance the project.
Jeff Nene, public relations officer with Convoy of Hope, said the home is the first of at least a dozen storm-resistant, energy-efficient homes to be built in Joplin. Volunteers with the organization, builders and others, including Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean, gathered to celebrate the completion of the project.
“Today is about remembering and rejoicing,” Nene said, noting that other tornado anniversary events would recall the devastation, those injured and the 161 people who lost their lives.
Don La Grand, a Convoy of Hope volunteer who has been working in Joplin for the past week, agreed: “We want people in Joplin to know they are loved and supported, and not forgotten.”
Spurgeon said her mother was at a graduation party when the tornado hit. Her brother, Michael England, was in the home and survived without injury by crouching in the bathroom.
“But that was all that was left,” she said.
The new house sits on property owned by her mother, and is on the same footprint as the one where she and her four siblings were raised, Spurgeon said.
“But the layout is a lot different; it’s a lot more open,” she said.
Spurgeon said her mother had some insurance, but not enough to enable her to rebuild. She has been staying with a friend but has been at the building site nearly every day since the work started.
“She’s really excited,” the daughter said.
Springfield-based Convoy of Hope is an international, faith-based relief organization that normally specializes in bringing in truckloads of food and supplies after a disaster. That happened early on after the Joplin tornado, said Karen Benson, global disaster response director for the organization.
But an outpouring of donations to the group, all designated for Joplin relief, prompted the decision to provide “gap funding” to build energy-efficient homes. Recipients are being selected in cooperation with the Joplin Long-Term Recovery Committee.
Building partners on the project are Global Green Building and TF Concrete Forming Systems, both of Springfield. Joyce Meyer Ministries is a funding partner, Benson said.
In addition to the resistance to high winds, the concrete construction will reduce energy bills by more than 50 percent, according to George Van Hoesen, of Global Green Building.
“Our goal is to get people back to self-sustainability, and that’s a part of it,” Benson said.
CONVOY OF HOPE may build more homes beyond the 12 currently planned, said Karen Benson, an official with the organization. Tornado victims who want more information may contact any case manager working through the Joplin Long-Term Recovery Committee at 625-9192.