Sunday, May 22, 2022

Eleven years ago today: Death, destruction hit Joplin, Missouri

(This post was originally published on the Huffington Post and the Turner Report on May 23, 2011 and is included in the 10th anniversary edition of 5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado.)

Each year, my eighth graders at Joplin East Middle School look forward to their first official visit to Joplin High School.

They have heard the horror stories about the school, how they, as freshmen the next year, will need to stay clear of the seniors who have worked their way up to the top of the food chain.

They speak in hushed whispers of Eagle Alley, a near mythical hallway that one almost needs a guide to navigate.

That first trip, which was scheduled for Wednesday, will never happen.

Eagle Alley is a thing of the past. After the devastating killer tornado that ripped through the heart of my city Sunday night, Joplin High School, the place where so many of my former students have learned the skills they need to succeed in life, the place where they made friends, created memories, and prepared for their passage into adulthood exists only in memory.

At least 89 people are reported dead and hundreds injured as a result of the first major tornado to hit Joplin in four decades.

Those of us who were fortunate enough not to be in the path of the storm (it hit approximately a quarter of a mile from the apartment complex where I live) waited in the center of a darkened city, praying that loved ones had somehow managed to remain safe in what reporters were describing as a scene from a war zone.

With nearly all power gone in this city of 50,000, the night sky was still illuminated by jagged streaks of lightning in the distance and by the lights from emergency vehicles as they passed every few seconds.

When morning arrived, we were greeted by a sun that seemed almost foreign in light of what had happened.

And now the waiting begins. Every few moments I scan through Facebook postings, heartened by messages that indicate my students and former students are alive. So far, none have been listed among the casualties through word of mouth, but it may be only a matter of time. Officials have yet to release any of the names of those who were killed.

The Joplin School District has canceled classes for today and they may well be finished for the school year, which had another nine days to go. Three of our school buildings are gone forever and the middle school where I teach no longer has a roof.

Many of my former students received their high school diplomas Sunday afternoon during graduation ceremonies at Missouri Southern State University, commemorating their achievements over the past four years at Joplin High School. Now that ceremony, which should have been a memorable milestone in their young lives, will always be tainted by tragedy.

As I write these words, slightly more than 14 hours have passed since the city of Joplin was changed forever.

The welcoming sunshine of just an hour ago has vanished, replaced by darkening clouds and the steady, insistent rumbling of thunder.

And now we wait.

(Photo- East Middle School after the tornado/Randy Turner)


From reviews for the 10th anniversary edition of 5:41: Stories From the Joplin Tornado:

I feel this is the best book on the Joplin event.

This book is a very meaningful read. It’s insane that it’s been 10 years since the tornado happened. Thankful that the authors could collect all these pictures and stories for us.

Great information and with photos never seen before , I highly recommend this to read and to give as a gift.

From someone who was right in the middle of the tornado it explains what we all went thru. If you're curious what it was like that day, this is your book.

5:41 is the most comprehensive book available on the Joplin Tornado, with the 10th anniversary edition featuring 528 pages and including more than 120 photos.

5:41 is available in Joplin at Always Buying Books, The Book Guy and Changing Hands Book Shoppe and is available from Amazon at this link.

Copies of the book can also be ordered directly from author Randy Turner at the PayPal button below or by sending $30 (including sales tax and shipping) to Randy Turner, 2306 E. 8th, Apt. A, Joplin, MO 64801

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Cup O' Nickels

At one point during my teaching days, I was in my apartment pondering the prizes for my occasional writing competition, the CA (Communication Arts) Olympics.

An Associated Press cup I had picked up years earlier while attending the Missouri Press Association's annual conference caught my eye and an idea hit me.

I left the apartment, drove to my bank and asked for two rolls of nickels. Returning to the apartment, I opened the rolls and poured them into the AP cup, except that it was no longer an AP cup.

Despite the letters on the cup, it would forevermore be known as the Cup O' Nickels (a play on Cup O' Noodles).

I thought of it as a one-time thing, but the students took to the nickels quickly and the cup became a regular feature in my classroom.

When I returned to my room at East Middle School after the May 22, 2011 tornado, I quickly located the Cup O' Nickels, caked in dirt, but a survivor and a welcome sight.

My thoughts turned to the Cup O'Nickels when Facebook posted one of its memories. I thought about sharing it, but Facebook wouldn't allow me to add the photo, so allow me to add it to this post.
This was from 10 years ago today.

"Productive day at school- I have finished all but a few grades, have my awards ready to present on Friday at the assembly, and wrote my thank-you cards for my 130 or so students (presented complete with a shiny nickel to prove that education pays, of course) . Three more days to go."

That was the last time I had the chance to follow my tradition of giving thank-you cards to my students and reaching into the Cup O'Nickels to provide them with a reminder of my class.

I miss those traditions and teaching, but I have a pleasant reminder of those days in my apartment- that former Associated Press cup, much cleaner than in the photo and filled to the brim, now and forever, the Cup O'Nickels.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Cherishing the memories left behind by victims of violence

Senseless acts of violence shatter the routine of our everyday life and hover like dark clouds over the families and close friends of the victims.

When violence happens in small communities, the circle of those who are affected spreads and all of us feel the effects.

Such was the impact of the murder of Barbara McNeely in the Northpark Mall parking lot in September 1977 to those of us in the East Newton and Missouri Southern communities.

In my book Lost Angels, I wrote about two other murders that impacted small communities in this area- the slaying of Hawthorne Elementary second grader Doug Ringler that rocked Carthage in December 1993 and the killing of Triway Elementary fourth grader Rowan Ford that changed Stella forever in November 2007.

Both of those murders were committed by people who were close to the family.

The same was true of the beating that led to the death of 3-year-old Jonathan Munoz-Bilbrey in Joplin in November 2017. The child was killed by his mother's live-in boyfriend.
Jonathan was a boy who loved Christmas and had his own special way of singing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.' The holiday season was just beginning when Jonathan had his future brutally taken from him.

Another senseless act of violence that left an impact on Joplin took place March 8 when a Joplin man with a prior conviction for assaulting a police officer shot three Joplin Police Department officers, killing two and severely wounding the third.

I did not know the two officers who were killed. I knew the third officer, Rick Hirshey, from his time as the resource officer at East Middle School when I was teaching there.

I wondered how many times I might have seen Cpl. Ben Cooper or Officer Jake Reed while they were on duty and just took for granted the jobs they were doing and the risks they were taking each time they were on duty.

Their murders shocked me, and I am sure others out of our complacency. It is easy for us to appreciate our law enforcement community, but that appreciation grows even more when we think of them as human beings and we think of the sacrifices their families make as these officers serve our community.

It is important that we keep these people in our thoughts and prayers.

While violence sometimes takes loved ones away, it is important to keep their memories alive.

Stories on three victims of violence- Cpl. Ben Cooper and Officer Jake Reed of the Joplin Police Department and 3-year-old Jonathan Munoz-Bilbrey are included in my book Remembering: People Who Touched Our Lives.

Signed copies of Remembering are available now at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe and The Book Guy in Joplin and at the Lamar Democrat in Lamar.

Remembering is also available at Amazon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The soundtrack of our lives

(I just came across these memories of my days as a classroom teacher in a Facebook post from three years ago and thought I would share.)

When my students had writing assignments, I allowed them to listen to music if they had earphones. Those who did not were forced to endure having my musical collection, consisting mostly of songs from the '60s and '70s, but also dipping into the 1950s (and a few newer ones, but those were the exception.)

Most of the time the students just ignored the music and worked on the papers, but every so often they would request that I put some songs I had played for them earlier on the playlist.

Sometimes when they began asking for a particular song, I knew it must have been in some movie they saw. "America" by Neil Diamond was one of those.

Some songs they grew to like- Rick Springfield's "Jesse's Girl, the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," Nilsson's "Coconut", Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat song, were on that list.

One year, it was all the Four Seasons, especially "Big Girls Don't Cry." Another year, there was a brief Dave Clark Five outbreak.

Some of the kids liked all of the songs, because their parents, and in my cases, their grandparents, listened to the music.

I couldn't go wrong with the Beatles, the earlier Elvis, the Beach Boys or Johnny Cash. (Even the kids with the earplugs turned off their music after the first few notes of "Ring of Fire.")

One year, there was a girl who was not particularly impressed with my choice of music, preferring to hear singers like Britney Spears, who was popular at that time.

"Why do you listen to that music. It's old," she said, describing it accurately.

I told her about a recent article I read that said your musical tastes were defined during your teen years and the same music you listened to then will be the music you will prefer throughout your adulthood.
"The music you are listening to on your iPod is the same music you will want to hear when you are as old as I am."

I had a difficult time interpreting the look on her face. I thought it might be joy because she thought she would still be listening to good music in the future, but disgust in realizing that one day she was going to be as old as I was.

I have always thought the people who grew up in my era had a distinct advantage because Top 40 radio in the 60s covered such a wide range of music and I was able to appreciate rock, country, soul, easy listening and variations on each.

These days, many young people (and older people, too) limit themselves to just one type of music and radio stations are completely programmed to appeal to a narrow, segmented audiences.

All of these thoughts crossed my mind this afternoon as I am listening to a countdown of the top 40 songs from this week 50 years ago in May 1969.

So far, I have heard songs from the Beatles, Elvis, the Who, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, James Brown, the Supremes, "The iceman" Jerry Butler and Marvin Gaye.

And they haven't even reached the top 15.

If music is truly provides the soundtrack of your life, I have been lucky.

Eleven years ago today: Death, destruction hit Joplin, Missouri

(This post was originally published on the Huffington Post and the Turner Report on May 23, 2011 and is included in the 10th anniversary edi...