By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Gorillas and Lions agreed on one thing Saturday at the Miner’s Bowl: A standing ovation during halftime for a Pittsburg State University cadet, and applause and cheers for PSU graduates who helped with the rescue efforts and recovery following the May 22 Joplin tornado.
ROTC Cadet Lucian Myers was given the ROTC Medal for Heroism for his initiative and selfless devotion following the EF-5 tornado.
Presenting Myers with the medal was Pittsburg physician Bill Sullivan, a 1986 PSU graduate and lieutenant colonel (retired) with the Kansas Army National Guard, and his wife, Tricia Sullivan, a Pittsburg nurse practitioner and 1999 PSU graduate.
The three share a special connection.
Myers, a senior history major at PSU, volunteered to step in for his brother in a Stained Glass Theatre production on May 22.
The tornado leveled the theater soon after the performance, and the falling debris injured Myers. He emerged from the rubble, collected himself and saw a pickup truck with a PSU license plate pull into a nearby parking lot.
It was Sullivan and his wife, who had been in Cherokee County, Kan., when a Weather Channel crew sped by headed east. They followed, and by the time they reached Galena, Kan., they could see a fully formed tornado on the ground heading into Joplin.
Sullivan, a veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his wife, a former EMT and firefighter, didn’t even consider turning around.
With Myers, they used a piece of plywood to transport the injured in Sullivan’s truck. Myers and Tricia Sullivan rode in the back as they dodged downed power lines and debris until they made it to Freeman Hospital West.
Myers continued to assist the injured for six hours, disregarding his own injuries. The Sullivans, too, continued to work through the night.
Following Myers’ medal presentation, the three were honored with six other PSU graduates who responded in Joplin on and after May 22. All received congratulations from PSU President Steve Scott and PSU jackets.
Lt. Brian Lewis, Joplin Police Department, is a 1994 PSU graduate who was at home in Carl Junction when the tornado hit.
“The first night I did damage assessment, and the rest of the time I worked at the incident command center,” Lewis said. Putting in 180 hours in the first two weeks following the tornado, “every day was pretty much a blur.”
Pittsburg native Dr. Brenda Robinson — a 1992 PSU graduate and the newly hired medical director of the PSU Bryant Student Health Center — was the lead physician on duty in the emergency room at Freeman Hospital West on May 22.
“I had been at Freeman three years, and of course this was one thing you’d never expect,” she said of the tornado that destroyed St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
Robinson tended to hundreds of patients that night, many in critical condition.
“I think about it all the time,” she said. “It was life-changing.”
Troy Bolander, Joplin’s planning and community development manager and a 1992 graduate, was cited for his leadership during the rebuilding process, and Paula Baker, a 1980 graduate, was recognized for her efforts as chief clinical officer for Freeman Healthy System. She will become CEO on Jan. 1.
Kerry Sachetta, principal of Joplin High School and a 1984 graduate, and C.J. Huff, superintendent of the Joplin School District and a 1996 graduate, were honored for their “tireless dedication” in ensuring students had places in which to learn when the school year began.
PSU spokesperson Chris Kelley said the decision to pay tribute during the Miner’s Bowl, which fell 10 days shy of the six-month anniversary of the tornado, was a no-brainer.
“We wanted to do it in front of our family and their family,” Kelley said. “We may be rivals on the field today but beyond that, it’s neighbor helping neighbor.”