By Ryan Atkinson
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A small, informal meeting on Tuesday afternoon in the south parking lot of the demolished Joplin High School illustrated just how far-reaching the devastation of the city — and the school in particular — has been.
Jim Lee, a Tulsa native who is an assistant football coach and school chaplain at Oaks Christian in Southern California, came to Joplin and met with Paige Nicholson, a parent of two Oaks Christian students, to hand over more than $6,000 — some of which came from the Lawrence Welk family —to Joplin High School.
“It just goes to show you that the emotional toll of the tragedy reaches a lot of people and that there are also a lot of people with connections to Joplin,” JHS principal Dr. Kerry Sachetta said, “And that makes me feel good.”
It all started when Lee — a graduate of Tulsa Memorial and Oklahoma State — started seeing the news reports out of Joplin.
“I grew up in Tulsa, so all the I-44 signs either say Oklahoma City or Joplin. When I saw this on the news, it just really hit home,” he said. “And being somebody who works at a high school, when I saw the picture of Joplin High, I just couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘What would we do if all the sudden our high school was just leveled?’”
Lee sent out an email and told Oaks Christian faculty and parents that he was collecting money. If anyone wanted to help, all they had to do was write a check to Joplin High School.
“And I thought to myself ‘Well, if I raise enough, I’ll just come out and make a personal visit,’” Lee said. “And then Paige sent a sizable check and that told me I was going to make the trip.”
Nicholson — who grew up “all over” as a military child —was visiting her brother in Pineville and decided to meet Lee and make the trip to JHS to present the money with her two children, Jake and Lauren.
“We decided that we should do something personally ... anything we could do to help,” said Paige, who along with her husband, Larry, contributed largely to the fundraiser. “Obviously, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to happen, but we wanted to show that we cared.”
Oaks Christian is an 11-year old private non-denominational college-preparatory school in Westlake Village, Calif. Its football program has garnered national attention and has produced many Division I and NFL players.
Lee presented Sachetta, athletic director Jeff Starkweather and new football coach Chris Shields with souvenirs — footballs signed by NFLers and Oaks alumni Clay Matthews Jr., Clay Matthews III, Casey Matthews and Jimmy Clausen.
“I think people were just glad that there was a tangible way to help,” Lee said. “They know they can always write a check to the Red Cross ... but when the school does something and someone is going to go there and personally deliver it, it’s personal.
“People are really touched by the loss and what they see on TV and they’re glad that they can do something and that our school can do something.”
Lee and Sachetta said it is not yet known how exactly the money will be used, though that was going to be discussed later on.
What was known was that many members of the Oaks Christian community stepped up.
“I got a check from one of his family members, a parent in the middle school,” Lee said. “People are paying attention. We have some really well-known names out there and they’re willing to help. It’s a good morale booster. I’m just proud of guys like that who are willing to help in any way.”