Emily Younker

I remember the day of the May 22, 2011, tornado like it was yesterday.

It was a Sunday, and because I was only a year and a half into my career at the Globe and still the newest hire in the newsroom, I had the unenviable role of being the weekend reporter. So I put on a nice shirt and skirt and headed to Missouri Southern State University to cover Joplin High School’s graduation ceremony.

It was a routine assignment for me until the very end, after the graduating class had marched out of the gymnasium and families were following them to reunite for pictures and other celebrations. I walked up to the stage to hand a forgotten camera left on a bleacher to the high school principal — “Someone is going to come looking for this,” I thought — when the band director, cellphone to his ear, cut in front of me to get to the principal first. “There’s a tornado warning,” he cautioned.

We all know what happened next, so I’ll spare the details. I took shelter inside the Target store and emerged to find a shattered Joplin. I spent that evening not writing about the happy times of graduation but sitting in the Globe newsroom, numb and in shock, trying to text and call my parents, listening in disbelief to reports of death and destruction.

Ten years later, this community is much changed. The landscape looks different; some areas are treeless, some have new growth. Familiar buildings — schools, restaurants, businesses — have been replaced with new construction. A few lots are still empty. Many residents still bear the scars, visible and invisible, of injury. And 161 families have a permanent hole in them.

I’ve changed too.

From a personal standpoint, I now divide my life into two periods: pre-tornado and post-tornado. I dream relentlessly of funnel clouds. I made either a storm shelter or a basement a requirement of any housing unit I live in. When I introduced my now-fiance to Joplin, one of the first places I took him was Cunningham Park. I showed him the sculptures, the butterfly garden, the memorial with the 161 names on it. If he wanted to know me better, then he needed to understand how much of an impact the tornado had on me and my community.

Professionally, the tornado thrust me — a relatively young and green reporter, in the scheme of things — into what I believe will be the defining time period of my career. I learned, I hope, how to interview people with empathy and compassion, and how to tell their stories respectfully. I learned how much of an honor it is when people entrust me with their stories and how to keep that trust. The tornado forced me to grow up rapidly under the most tragic circumstances; I felt I transformed, during that summer of 2011, from a recent graduate with a journalism degree into a real reporter, doing real work that matters to my community.

We all have a tornado story, and that is mine.

But now I want to hear yours.

As the 10th anniversary of the tornado approaches in two weeks, the Globe would like to publish thoughts and perspectives from our community. What do you remember about that night or the long days, weeks and months that followed? How have you grown and changed in the decade since the tornado? What stands out to you about this community 10 years later? How are you remembering the 161 victims a decade after the tornado snatched them from us?

Share your story with us by mail, 117 E. Fourth St. in Joplin, or by email at letters@joplinglobe.com.

Emily Younker is the managing editor of The Joplin Globe. Contact her at eyounker@joplinglobe.com.

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Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.