Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Greensburg: A town remembering tragedy and celebrating triumph

  • It must have started with the pioneers who packed everything in a wagon and came west to build a future: the ability to make the most of what you have, the ability to turn tragedy into survival and positive growth.

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  • It must have started with the pioneers who packed everything in a wagon and came west to build a future: the ability to make the most of what you have, the ability to turn tragedy into survival and positive growth.
    And as Greensburg approaches the fifth anniversary of the tornado that destroyed 95 percent of the town, that pioneer spirit will be even more evident.
    The tornado struck on the night of May 4, 2007. It was a nearly direct hit, causing immense property damage and the loss of a dozen lives.
    In the aftermath, decisions had to be made: Does my family rebuild, do we rebuild the town?
    Greensburg decided to rebuild, but not in any ordinary way. They decided to build the greenest town they could. And that effort, combined with the scope of the disaster, brought a national spotlight on the community.
    There were hurdles, but the results are tangible.
    That progress will be celebrated, along with fitting remembrances of those lost and the horror of the destruction, on the five-year anniversary the first weekend of May.
    Family heirlooms
    "We started all this wanting to honor the children who have been born since the tornado," said Erica Goodman, who owns the "Where'dya Get That Antiques" store in Greensburg.
    Goodman and neighbor Judi Kirk decided to create a calendar of Greensburg's newest residents — symbols of the future.
    "The word 'opportunities' has kind of gotten us through all this," Goodman said in an interview Wednesday. "We wanted to tell the story of the last five years."
    So they rounded up some help — Patrick Clement, the editor of the Kiowa County Signal, to take photographs; Kirk's son Joel, a professional graphic designer, to do the layout; Alanna Goodman as production assistant; and Grant Neuhold as assistant photographer — and they set to work.
    For the calendar, they placed the youngsters in settings in which they might be the future leaders of the community: doctor's offices, schools, courtrooms, businesses.
    Of course, the project grew as they worked on it.
    "We wanted a timeline of events in the last five years for the calendar," Kirk said. "But when we started researching, it got out of hand pretty fast, so we decided we had enough for a book in addition to the calendar."
    The result is "The Greensburg Journal: 5.4.07 to 5.4.12."
    The timeline lists over 600 events, from the EF 5 tornado's strike at 9:45 p.m. May 4, 2007, to the anniversary memorial service. In between are the arrival of the rescue workers, the first funeral for a tornado victim, the arrival of the FEMA trailers and the many public meetings.
    As the timeline progresses, it documents the opening of buildings and businesses, first services in new churches and students opening new schools.
    Page 2 of 2 - The team worked their way through copies of the Kiowa County Signal and other public records, like the Chamber of Commerce minutes and Business Redevelopment minutes.
    "We hope this book and the calendar will become family heirlooms," Kirk said.
    There is space in the book for families to record their own personal memories from each year.
    "Someday, someone will say 'I want that book because it meant so much to grandma,'" Kirk said.
    With a stack of photographs documenting the town's journey at hand, Kirk and Goodman decided to produce a set of note cards and reprints as well.
    "We ended up taking the printing job to Mennonite Press out of Newton," Kirk said. "They do high quality work and their prices are the best. This is not some Kinko job, this is quality publishing."
    And that serves two purposes: creating heirloom-quality materials while positioning the project to make as much money as possible.
    The proceeds from the project will be donated to the rebuilding of the Twilight Theater.
    The theater, which once showed movies to generations of Greensburg citizens, is being restored. When complete, the theater will not only show movies, it will serve as the town's community auditorium. The schools will present shows there, and the theater will be wired with fiber optics so the media center can broadcast from there.
    "The theater project has the funds to complete the exterior," Kirk said. "Now we're raising money for the interior."
    The various commemorative projects will be available at a release event from noon to 2 p.m. May 4 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 5 at the Commons Building in Greensburg.
    "On the first day, during the first hour, we'll give a free 12-ounce drink from the restored historic soda fountain along with any purchase," Kirk said.
    Each item has a suggested donation instead of a price: the calendar is $15, the book $5, the notecards $1 and the photographs two for $1.
    "We didn't want to have to make change," Kirk said.
    The project staff have all donated their time and materials for the effort, and they're hoping to be able to present a sizable check to the theater.
    It's a one-time printing producing a limited edition of 1,000 copies of the calendar and 1,000 copies of the book.
    "If people want to reserve a copy, they can call us — I don't think there'll be a second printing," Goodman said.
    For more information or to reserve a copy, call Judi Kirk at (620) 255-3759 or Erica Goodman at (620) 338-4638.
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