By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
When Roger Allen returned to what was left of his house at 2314 Virginia St. after the May 22, 2011, tornado, he didn’t notice the 6-foot pole sticking out of the massive elm tree in his yard.
His focus was on the devastation that his neighbors and his community had suffered. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that he realized the pole sticking out of his 80-year-old elm was slowly becoming a landmark. On Saturday, that landmark came down as Allen prepares to break ground on his home Monday.
For Allen, it is a bittersweet moment.
“It was the only big tree left, and there it was with this big heavy pole sticking out of it,” Allen said. “It was healthy before and I wanted to save it, make it the centerpiece of my yard, but the damage was too much and it had to go.”
The elm was twisted almost 180 degrees counterclockwise, with the three-fourths-inch pole going through the center. The roof from someone’s garage was wrapped around the trunk. Allen estimates that roughly 300 people came by and took pictures during the cleanup.
“People wanted to see this tree,” Allen said. “It survived when nothing on this block did. There weren’t trees left after that storm, and here is this giant tree standing among them.”
Allen was not in his home when the tornado touched down. He had found safety at his mother’s house, near the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center with his sister and niece. He had just got the door shut when the tornado ripped through the house.
“I could hear the glass cracking and I got the door shut as I heard the furniture being thrown around,” Allen said. “We got lucky; someone was watching out for us.”
Working his way back through the six blocks to his house, he was directing people he found to the Taco Bell on Main Street because he saw people already gathering in the parking lot.
“I had to help people and make sure people were OK,” Allen said. “I couldn’t find where I lived because everything was different and I just kept finding people who needed help. I thought it was just a few blocks, and maybe the police and paramedics would be there shortly. We had no idea that it went through the whole town.”
During the months that followed, Allen spent a lot of time with charities that came to the area to assist. A locksmith by trade, Allen did not charge anyone during that time. Instead, he directed people needing help to the charities that helped him.
“I wanted to let them know that there were people out there who could help.” Allen said. “Rebuild Joplin, Compassion in Action, Convoy of Hope, Catholic Charities ... There are so many out there that helped us. Losing a house didn’t get to me. Seeing those people who came out to help is what got to me.”
Allen will salvage the pole to put in his new home.
“I kept the plaques people left, and I will keep the pole,” Allen said. “If I can display it somehow, I will. It’s not going anywhere.”