[Special guest author Laura Girty lives in Cherokee, Oklahoma, and works for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce in community development. She has kindly contributed two articles she wrote for the ODOC Developer newsletter.]
A popular movie a few years ago, Pay It Forward, was based on the thought that if a group of people did something kind for someone else, and the person who received the kindness then did something kind for another person, then before you know it, people all over would be kind to each other.
More recently this was captured in a series of commercials by Liberty Mutual insurance. Liberty Mutual uses the advertising slogan: Responsibility. What’s your policy? Their website engages conversation on whether citizens have an obligation to volunteer for activities that benefit their community. The series of commercials show people who perform an act of kindness, then another who is the recipient or witnesses it going on to perform another act of kindness.
For those who live in Oklahoma’s small rural communities this is just the way of life!
On the eve of August 25, 2006 one such small rural Oklahoma community, Cherokee, was hit by nature’s fury. Without warning thunderstorms bringing much needed rain turned to dangerous “microburst’s”. Microbursts are violent short-lived localized downdrafts that create extreme wind shears at low altitudes and are usually associated with thunderstorms. Cherokee reported 80 to 100 per mile winds with at least 3 identified microbursts.
In Cherokee these microburst’s quickly caused great property damage. And more storms were building and expected to arrive in a short time. Residents poured out of their homes to quickly repair damage and prepare for the next storms. Neighbor helping neighbor was all around! Commonplace, normal, not the rare act of kindness portrayed in the movie and commercials. Residents joined together to find scraps of wood and particle board to cover broken windows. City workers quickly cleared streets of large limbs and brush so that they were passable.
At the airport, where the city owned hangers had been almost completely destroyed, city police chief, Paul Michael, had daughter, Shelby, snapping pictures for insurance while he helped the airplane owners and others salvage the planes and prepare for the next storm. The owners worked together, clearing one plane at a time, then moving onto the next, getting more done, and much faster, by working together.
When one airplane owner, Fred Buck, arrived his plane had already been removed from its’ damaged hanger area into a more secure area. Pictures had been taken for insurance purposes for him and the city. A retired Air Force pilot, Mr. Buck said that other military members had often scoffed at him for his love of his small home town, saying, “Everyone knows your business”. But as Mr. Buck answered them back, “but they also know when you need help, and they’re always there to help!” By the next day pilots in separate hangers that were not damaged had flown their planes out so that the damaged planes could be stored in their hangers.
Karen Hawkins, owner of the Cherokee Inn and Cherokee Station, had portions of the motel roof and restaurant vent system blown off and scattered for miles. Within hours and over several days the pieces just started showing back up at her businesses as friendly neighbors recognized the familiar “green roof” and returned them. She claims the returned pieces that she was able to salvage probably saved her $10,000 or more on her repairs.
I was not surprised at the attitude and generosity of my home community. I see similar pride and care in communities all across rural Oklahoma. The day after the storms I returned from out of town meetings to find that unidentified community neighbors had cleared dangerous limbs that had broken in the storm in my own yard. All through the weekend people could be seen working together to clean up the community from the damage the storms caused.
The storms may have brought temporary devastation but they also brought welcomed rain and a great reminder of the community spirit that makes living in rural Oklahoma so special!
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