The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 25, 2012

St. Louis Blues employees assist on home constructions in Joplin

By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer

— Michelle Wilson sat under a four-post canvas awning and watched from the street Thursday as the frame of what will be her new home was raised.

She and Shelly Goerz, who used to live at what is now a construction site at 2411 Murphy Ave., swapped their accounts of what happened on May 22, 2011, and how their lives have changed since then.

“It’s pretty cool being here with them building a house where I was,” Goerz said.

Working in the background, on a day when the temperature in Joplin hit 100 degrees at 1 p.m., were staff and support personnel from the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League, along with volunteers for Habitat for Humanity.

“I watch them on Fox whenever I can,” Goerz said of the Blues. “Coach (Ken) Hitchcock and Jamie Langenbrunner were with the Dallas Stars when I lived in Dallas. In 1999, (Dallas) won the Stanley Cup.”

John Urban, executive vice president of events and new business for the Scottrade Center, where the Blues play their home games, was among the volunteers building a new house where Goerz used to live.

“It’s a very important day for the whole organization,” Urban said. “We’re just doing a small part compared to what Habitat does day in and day out. I’ll credit the gang here from Habitat who kind of tee it up for us.

“It’s nice to see something move with that kind of momentum in a few hours,” he said. “We’re happy to do a very small part and will keep coming.”

Representatives of the Blues were in Joplin as part of the Governor’s Joplin Challenge to build 35 homes in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.

Members of the Blues’ organization and other volunteers are building five houses just northeast of the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

Wilson was living at Missouri Place Apartments near 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue when an EF-5 tornado left behind a mile-wide path of destruction through the middle of the city 14 months ago.

“When the second set of sirens went off, it must have been close to the high school because it didn’t take long to get there,” Wilson said.

She said she and her boyfriend at the time got into the bathtub. Her son, Dakota, who lived with her, was working at Wal-Mart at 15th and Range Line when the tornado struck.

“I had no idea what damage it had done until I got out of the bathtub and said, ‘Oh, my.’ Let me tell you, that bathtub was shaking, too, from side to side and up and down,” Wilson said.

After the storm, she went looking for her son at Wal-Mart while he walked for miles looking for her or someone who might have had contact with her.

“He couldn’t find me and I couldn’t find him until 10 o’clock that night,” she said.

Dakota, who now works for Mayberry Construction, is part of the crew that is building the new home where he and his mother will live.

He said he was in the back of the store near the fire exit when the tornado struck at Wal-Mart.

“It was a big relief to see everybody stand up,” he said. “I stayed at Wal-Mart quite a while just trying to help everybody out.”

He then went to check on his mother and found their apartment was destroyed.

“When I got there, I freaked out a little bit,” he said. “I walked around Joplin for about five hours, I guess. I got to Fourth and Main. I was trying to get in contact with my mom. I was trying to get a better signal.

“I kept getting text messages, they’re here, they’re there. Then my grandma (who lives in Oronogo) sent me a text message that she had talked with my mom.”

His mother said she was at Memorial Hall, looking for her son among the injured who had been taken there.

“I’ve seen a lot of damage from tornadoes, like Carl Junction,” Dakota said. “Who’s going to be dead next to you? That’s what scared me. I saw people who had passed away while I was walking. It was a bad ordeal.”

He said he started working for Mayberry Construction on Oct. 10.

“It’s great,” he said. “I’m excited to work on the house we’re going to be living in and eventually my mom will own.”

Just around the block, overseeing construction of the five houses the Blues and other volunteers are building was Ben Hendershot, construction manager for the Harry S Truman Coordinating Council.

Unlike the other volunteers, Hendershot, who lives in Pittsburg, decorated his white hard hat with a Pittsburg State Gorillas emblem.

“It’s kind of a joint effort between us and Habitat,” he said. “We just kind of structured these five a little different.”

Assisting personnel from the Blues were volunteers such as Brenda Newport, a supervisor with CVS Caremark, a prescription benefits management company in Lee’s Summit.

“I brought a group of 10 people down here,” said Newport, whose brother, Jesse Arnold, works for the Joplin Fire Department. “I came down last October and helped with the seven houses in seven days with Extreme Home Makeover.”

Bob Plager, who played for the Blues from 1967-78, was at a site under construction at 2314 Picher Ave. along with Blues mascot coordinator Andrew Horwat and other volunteers.

“They’re all from the office, salespeople,” Plager said. “When the challenge came along, it didn’t take long to fill up the bus.”

Plager, who has worked in various roles for the Blues organization, had two brothers, Bill and Barclay, who also played in the NHL.

“(Radio station) KMOX is so powerful that half of Canada are St. Louis Blues fans,” he said. “Dan Kelly, the way he announced, he put us on the map.”

After the tornado, “There was a lot of money raised,” he said. “To see these houses going up, it’s great. To see the smiles on the faces of the people who are going to live here, it’s great.”

The smiles belonged to Louise Galbraith and her daughter, Breanne, who live in a trailer park set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency near Joplin Regional Airport.  They previously lived in the Redwood Towers apartments behind Wal-Mart.

“The only thing that happened was my brother’s window popped out of place, so he just popped it back in,” said Breanne, a recent Joplin High School grad. “But there was a lot of water damage.”

She attended graduation ceremonies in May at Leggett & Platt Athletic Center along with President Obama and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

“I thought it was pretty neat. He delivered it very well,” she said of Obama’s speech. “It made me feel like I was special and in a special group because the President was acknowledging us.”

She said her plans are to attend Washington State University this fall.

“It’s really pretty up there and I just wanted a change of scenery,” she said. “It’s closer to a beach.”

Louise Galbraith will stay at her new four-bedroom home along with her son.

“It’s going to be a nice Christmas this year,” she said.