Nationally Syndicated Radio Program Airs Unique Perspective on the Joplin Tornado

Katrina Hine

Our American Stories, a nationally syndicated radio program out of Oxford, Mississippi, shares a special program from the perspective of a TV news reporter and weatherman who found themselves in one of the most devastating situations they had ever covered, the May 22nd, Joplin tornado.

What attracted “Our American Stories” to the Joplin story for their national program was one simple fact: small town America and understanding what it is to truly be a neighbor.

Lee Habeeb, Founder and Host of Our American Stories, offers this, “Our American Stories tells stories that aren’t being told. Positive stories about generosity and courage, resilience and redemption, faith and love. Stories about the past and present. And stories about ordinary Americans who do extraordinary things each and every day. Stories from our listeners about their lives.

The Joplin tornado revealed the worst of nature and the best of humanity when faced with an unavoidable catastrophe.

Our American Stories, Producer Montie Montgomery, recalls the news coverage of the disaster from his home in Michigan.

“I remember hearing about Joplin in 2011 when I was still in Middle School. It shocked the country-and for good reason as it is still the costliest tornado in US history. Coming at this story 10 years later though I found that there was a lot of the story that most of the media in 2011 did not cover, and that was an in depth look into the community that came together to recover,” Montgomery continues. “Redemptive stories like the Joplin Tornado, although marred in absolute tragedy, are important to tell because they show who we really are. Most people care about their communities and the people within them. That's a story that needs to be told.” 

Montie Montgomery

Montgomery who produced the interview, reached out to KSNF News Reporter Gretchen Bolander and former KSNF Weatherman, Jeremiah Cook, both offered observations on what looked to be a routine day in the Four States that would test the very fiber of the community.

Bolander was off that fateful Sunday, enjoying what seemed to be a beautiful spring day. Cook who covered the weather on the weekends at KSNF, had taken off early after completing his stories and planned to return for the 10 PM news.

Cook offered a point of view filled with raw honesty about the moment he realized it was an actual tornado ripping through his hometown on the station tower cam that faced south into Joplin. Despite what he calls, a “hellscape” of destruction, he reveals the heart of Southwest Missouri… neighbors taking care of neighbors.

For Bolander, damage was not serious in her neighborhood, but she chose to head into the station and would soon find that the community was almost unrecognizable. Nevertheless, within days roads were cleared faster than most other communities finding themselves with similar destruction.

“I think it does speak to Joplin, that people want to help each other,” Bolander stated. “Not everyone is perfect but when there is a need people will pitch in. And I will say for myself, you know, as a reporter sometimes it’s hard not to become cynical because you do see a lot of bad things that happen to people, that people do to each other. And this is one of those cases that really kinda restores your hope in humanity. That people want good things to happen for other people and they don’t want them to feel alone when they might be at their darkest hour.”

Lee Habeeb, in Oxford, Miss. on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (Bruce Newman, Oxford Eagle via AP)

Both Habeeb and Montgomery note that what makes stories such as the Joplin Tornado relevant is where they come from.

“As Lee says, many of our stories come from our listeners. They're the people with their finger on the pulse of the people they think matter in their lives, and we think that those people matter too,” Montgomery said.

Our American Stories is a long format storytelling program from the words of everyday Americans living out the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly of what life throws at them but overcoming despite it.

“We think people are hungry for stories that are positive and redemptive. Stories about our past and present that are as rich and complicated and beautiful as our listeners lives. And we tell stories about love and fear. Risk and courage. And faith, too, and how it animates the lives of so many Americans. So many of our heroes, too,” Habeeb concludes.

The story of the Joplin Tornado, “Love and Loss in Joplin” can be heard in its entirety on the Our American Stories website: