The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


August 20, 2012

Cardinals lend helping hand in Joplin

Once their work for the day was done, Bre O’Hara stood and waited in what soon will become her front yard.

As members of the front office staff and support personnel of the St. Louis Cardinals walked toward their bus and personal vehicles, O’Hara reached out them to them.

“Thanks guys,” she said as she patted Cardinals manager Mike Matheny on the back.

The Cardinals’ staff came to Joplin on Monday as part of the Governor’s Joplin Challenge to build 35 houses in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity. The new neighborhood the Cardinals have begun is centered in the area of 24th Street and Wall Avenue.

O’Hara wore a white hard hat and a Teams Unite for Joplin button on her T-shirt as she helped professional construction workers, such as Shane Hagemeier of Burkhart Construction, and the volunteers while her future home began to take shape.

“I’ve known the construction guys for years,” she said. “I’ve known Shane since I was 18.”

About a dozen members of the Cardinals’ staff flew to Joplin, including president Bill DeWitt III, general manager John Mozeliak, hitting coach Mark McGwire and other senior team officials.

The Cardinals Care charity presented checks totalling $200,000 from the Teams Unite for Joplin fundraising effort last summer.

The checks were presented to four agencies who work with children in Joplin — $70,000 to Children’s Haven, $40,000 to Bright Futures, $20,000 to Ronald McDonald House, and $70,000 to Big Brothers & Big Sisters.

The Cardinals’ staff was joined by about 30 members of the front office staff and other volunteers from the Cardinals’ double-A minor-league team in Springfield, according to Habitat for Humanity officials who estimated a total of 100 volunteers began construction on five houses.

“That’s what the Cardinals are known for,” McGuire said. “They understand the fan base and how far and deep it goes. They’re the best organization as far as I’m concerned. It’s just awesome to be a part of it.”

McGuire said he didn’t know what to expect in Joplin, even though he had seen video of the damage caused by an F-5 tornado on May 22, 2011, that destroyed thousands of homes in the city along a mile-wide path that was six miles long.

“It’s unbelievable how far they’ve come since the devastation last year,” McGuire said. “It’s really cool that we’re a part of it. Mike Matheny and I were asked by general manager John Mozeliak and we said, ‘Absolutely, let’s go.’ How could we not?

“My brother back in California does this line of work. I have a lot of respect for these hard-working men and women who do this. It’s a lot of work.”

O’Hara said she was on her way back to Joplin from a fishing trip near Riverton (Kan.) with her son, Dominick, when the tornado struck. Her residence near 16th Street and New Hampshire was heavily damaged.

“It was hitting our house when we pulled up,” she said. “I had one of those old duplexes with windows everywhere. I knew we were in trouble.

“My neighbors over near Parr Hill Park, their houses were completely destroyed,” she said. “Everything was just blown in and sucked out. All I smelled was gas and wood.

“It was eerie, like a movie. A police officer was going through and on a speaker said, ‘If you can hear this, consider yourself lucky because your worst fear has just hit Joplin.’

”We didn’t wait for the government. We didn’t wait for the police. We showed the world we did what we needed to do. My neighbor had seven kids in one closet.

“I lived there for about two weeks without electricity, then we got a generator,” she said. “Everybody made fun of me because I took a golf club and duct-taped a steak knife to it. I’m a single mom so, of course, I have pink duct tape.”

She said she stayed at motels before she found a place to live in Neosho. Dominick, now 5 years old, just started kindergarten.

Just around the block, Tricia Brock watched as the Cardinals’ staff and other volunteers began work on what will become her new three-bedroom home near her old address of 2109 Joplin Ave.

“We’re actually in the same house. It was damaged pretty good, the roof and windows and inside,” said Brock, who was at her residence during the tornado. “We repaired it enough so we could live there.

“As it was happening, it felt like our house was going to pieces, so it was pretty creepy,” she said. “I can still feel it like it was yesterday, and I hate that. Ever since we moved to Missouri 20 years ago, I always feared being in a tornado.”

Brock, who lives with her daughter Lauren, 13, and sons Brenden, 13, and Preston, 18, said she has returned to work at the rebuilt Wal-Mart store near 15th Street and Range Line.

“It’s going to be crazy after living at the same address for 13 years,” she said. “I’m thrilled, though. I’ve never been big about sports, but my nephew is a huge sports fan, so he keeps me informed. Now, I love them to pieces.”

O’Hara, as the former head bartender at Sportsmans Park Bar and Grill in Joplin, said she’s a huge fan of the Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Oh, yeah, I watch them all, Cardinals and Chiefs. I’ve met them all. It’s a huge blessing,” she said. “They’re so good at giving you hope.”

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