In an overwhelming display of a community joining together, thousands of Joplin area residents and their supporters walked side-by-side Tuesday afternoon as they traveled by foot through the heart of the tornado zone, marking the one-year anniversary of last May’s deadly storm.
Some marched to remember those whose lives were lost, while others walked to celebrate the progress that a year has brought.
Some held signs, while others waved flags or carried balloons. Colorful T-shirts featured slogans such as “1 Joplin” and “Team Depot,” while some simply said, “Hope.”
Signs of hope were everywhere Tuesday afternoon, as the crowd members were often seen cheering. The group encountered many signs of Joplin’s future as they paused at different locations along their walk for a steeple raising, a groundbreaking and a ribbon cutting.
The day was a sign of hope not just for Joplin residents, but for those from Duquesne as well.
“Today is a true day of optimism and hope for the future,” said Duquesne mayor Denny White. “We feel great about everything and we think that it will just get better for us.”
White, his wife, Cathy, and their black poodle, Ben, walked the “extra mile” Tuesday afternoon, starting with a group of approximately 350 people from the roundabout in Duquesne before joining the rest of the unity group in the 15th street Wal-Mart parking lot.
Cathy said the day was a mixture of rejoicing and remembering.
“We want to pay some respect to people that didn’t survive,” she said. “At the same time we’re celebrating and thankful for all of the great things that are happening in Duquesne.”
While some spent Tuesday celebrating the rebuilding and gradual healing that has come with the year that passed, for many it was difficult not to reflect on the gruesome details of that Sunday evening one year ago.
Deborah Robinson, of Joplin, was working as a nurse tech in the medical oncology department at Freeman West when the tornado struck. She says while the rebuilding and community support are encouraging, it is difficult for her not to be emotional on this day.
“It’s kind of hard,” Robinson said. “But seeing everybody and all the support everybody has and all the attitudes and everything is really great, but it’s still difficult.”
Robinson was joined by her two daughters, one of whom was carrying a special cardboard sign, in memory of her friend’s father.
“My friend’s father died in the tornado,” she said. “She moved to another part of Missouri, so I’m doing this for her.”
She wasn’t alone, as many found ways Tuesday to honor those who died in last year’s storm.
Page 2 of 3 - Jodelle Kirk carried a sign in honor of her father, Stanley Kirk, who was one of the 161 lives lost in the tornado. Her sign, in red, white and blue, and complete with a photo of she and her father, read, “Running for the heavens in memory of my daddy.”
Though it was a unity walk, the people walking weren’t the only Joplin residents participating.
A group of employees from the newly rebuilt Wendy’s restaurant stood on the edge of their parking lot, cheering loudly as the crowd made its way toward Range Line Road.
Sitting on the edge of the Academy parking lot, Emilie Ward also did her part in joining the event as she sat in her lawn chair waving and cheering on the passersby.
One of those walking was her grandson, Jalill Hamilton, whose 17th birthday also happened to be that day.
Ward remembers well the events from one year ago and like many of the survivors, considers she and her family to have been “very blessed.”
“We were celebrating his 16th birthday last year when the storm hit,” Ward said. “I was at the Stained Glass Theatre last year, but I left about 4 p.m. and was not in the building when it hit. There were 50 some odd people in that building when the tornado hit, and three died.”
Ward and her family were having a birthday dinner at Applebee’s when the tornado tore through Joplin.
“We were in Applebee’s and we were very blessed,” Ward said. “They took good care of us, put us behind the kitchen, and we never heard a sound. We came out through the destruction right after it hit going down to 26th and Connecticut, it was just unbelievable.”
Ward says she feels a burden for her friends who lost so much in the storm as well as for those whose lives were lost.
She said for her, the one-year anniversary is about remembering, celebrating and moving forward.
“I think it’s all those things,” Ward said.
Traffic on Range Line Road, one of Joplin’s busiest roadways, came to a halt for a short period Tuesday afternoon, as the crowd made their way down 17th street toward Texas Avenue. From there the large crowd continued onto 20th Street, past Connecticut Avenue, past the railroad tracks and south onto Wisconsin Avenue, toward 22nd Street.
The group then continued on to their first stop, the raising of the steeple at the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints, located at 2200 Indiana Avenue.
From there the group moved west, across the Joplin High School parking lot and onto the baseball field, where they held the high school groundbreaking ceremony.
Page 3 of 3 - The crowd was then moved to Iowa Avenue, where they turned west to reach 24th Street. The group traveled to 25th Street and Main Street, then on to 25th Street and Pearl Avenue, where they stopped for children’s activities.
From there they traveled to 26th Street and Bird Avenue, where the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce held a grand re-opening ribbon cutting for Kraft Insurance services.
The group then traveled to Cunningham Park for the Day of Unity program, which kicked off at 5:15 p.m.