JOPLIN, MO —
Over the past two months, I’ve had the privilege to visit with and personally thank dozens of volunteers from all parts of the country who rushed to Joplin to help this devastated community dig out and clean up after the horrific tornado of May 22 leveled nearly a third of the city with swirling winds exceeding 200 miles per hour.
These angels of mercy not only pulled people and their possessions out of the wreckage of homes and businesses, but they moved tons of debris so that it could be hauled away in a cleanup program never seen before in this area.
Among the things that I’ve learned is that Joplin and our region is filled with decent, caring people who saw a need and immediately rushed to our rescue with whatever tools they had available — hands, shovels, backhoes, frontloaders, trucks and trailers.
I frequently was moved to tears by their compassion and unflinching willingness to do whatever was necessary to assist those in desperate need. To them, I say from the bottom of my heart, may God bless you and keep you.
But there was something else that I learned from talking with many of the volunteers: They were surprised and impressed at the resiliency and spirit of the people of Joplin. They expected to find a community dazed, confused, frightened and even immobilized by this terrifyingly traumatic experience.
Instead, they found people from Joplin working alongside their neighbors from Webb City, Carthage and other Missouri communities as well as those from Southeast Kansas and Northeast Oklahoma.
Emergency crews from communities across the region were here within a matter of minutes and hours of the disaster. They were quickly followed by an army of volunteers doing whatever needed to be done.
And the volunteers never stopped arriving. Daily we saw people in green, red, orange, yellow, blue, purple and white T-shirts emblazoned with the names of their churches or organizations working in stricken neighborhoods here and in Duquesne.
More than one volunteer said something to the effect that he had never seen so many neighbors and friends of those who lost their homes out working alongside volunteers and emergency personnel.
In one instance, an individual told me that he and his church group had volunteered to help in a city hit by a major disaster a few years ago. The difference between that experience and Joplin was like daylight and night, he said. Residents acted as if they expected everything to be done for them. Few lifted a hand.
Indeed, one volunteer said that he would even consider moving to Joplin because of the interactive experience between the people in the community and the volunteers. “I can’t say enough about them,” he said.
That brings me to the point of this column: People are any community’s heart and soul. Clearly Joplin’s greatest asset is its people and those of our neighboring villages, towns and cities across a wide region.
While Joplin is large enough to be the retail, medical and trucking hub of the region, it has never lost its sense of community. People care about what happens to their friends and neighbors, and are eager to do more than just talk, wring hands and commiserate with those in trouble.
There is nothing that anyone can say to soften the blow of what the tornado did.
Too many lives were lost, too many people injured, too many families turned topsy-turvy and too many homes and businesses destroyed to sugar-coat this tragedy.
But this is not the end of the Joplin story.
What I expect to see from the community that I have known for all of my 70 years is a broad, vigorous recovery. I envision Joplin swept up in a dynamism that not only will rebuild homes, schools and businesses, but will bring the city back bigger, stronger and better.
I believe that what many of the volunteers from New York, the Carolinas, Florida, Tennessee, Iowa, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and so many other states detected in Joplin was an undefeated spirit, a willingness by everyone to roll up their sleeves and do whatever is necessary despite the loss and sorrow.
People like that don’t give up.
Joplin will rise again.
Clair Goodwin is a retired Joplin Globe opinion page editor and currently writes a weekly golfing column.