Friday, May 05, 2017

Rural Kansas town devastated by 2007 tornado has come together as a community to survive

Greensburg, Kan. (Best Places map)
Ten years after an EF-5 tornado turned homes in rural Greensburg, Kan. to dust, killing 13 people in the area, the town and region has managed to survive, largely by coming together as a community, Roy Wenzl reports for The Wichita Eagle. The town, which had between 1,400 to 1,500 residents at the time of the tornado, which struck May 4, 2007, now has between 800 to 900.

After the tornado, the town no longer had "a grade school, a high school, a City Hall, a hospital, a water tower, a fire station, a business district or a main street," Wenzl notes, referring to an Eagle story from 2007. "We also could have said there were no longer dentists, doctor’s offices, eye doctors, car repair shops and all other things a small town needs to keep from dying. Greensburg could easily have become only a memory and not a town."

Darin Headrick, who was superintendent of schools at the time of the tornado, told Wenzl, “The tornado opened all our eyes. People were living scattered everywhere; no one was living in Greensburg anymore. We’d all lost everything, but what we all found that we missed the most were friendships, neighborhoods, the daily interactions. We realized we’d lost relationships." Headrick said one of the keys to rebuilding was to ensure that the town had schools rebuilt inside city limits by the time the fall semester began on Aug. 15.

Marvin Lawson in what used to be his home
in Greensburg, Kan. in May 2007 (Eagle photo)
To do that, Headrick and Greensburg High School principal Randy Fulton "built relationships—with displaced students, with parents," Wenzl writes. Headrick told Wenzl, “We got back 96 percent of the high school students, 50 percent of the grade school kids.” Headrick said they didn’t just replace the school, "they built with future school consolidation in mind, hoping to attract children from neighboring towns such as Haviland and Mullinville."

Headrick "forged new relationships with people from Mullinville and Haviland. People from those towns had raced to help Greensburg, he said. Now he tried to help them. That laid the groundwork for when school consolidation happened after the tornado. But he knew Greensburg needed to give up something to get cooperation. So that meant telling Greensburg residents they had to give up some of their decades-long identity."

That meant giving up school colors and mascots to make sure students from other schools weren't being forced to accept the Greensburg High School identity, Wenzl writes. So Greensburg High School became Kiowa County High School, the Greensburg Rangers were now the Kiowa County Mavericks and the colors went from red and blue to burnt-orange and white.

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