The Joplin tornado anniversary events that brought closure to the year of “firsts” will make the “seconds” easier, survivor Mark Norton remarked as he joined the thousands who gathered under the cloudless sky at Cunningham Park on Tuesday.
For Norton, the anniversary of his son Will’s death included a private meeting with President Obama before Joplin High’s commencement Monday and the honor of presenting the Class of 2011’s mementos for the time capsule filled Tuesday, intended to be opened on May 22, 2061.
The Norton family, which has a scholarship fund honoring Will established at the CFO, was first profiled in the fall 2011 newsletter about the horrific experience of searching for their newly graduated son for a week after the tornado as Mark was hospitalized with massive injuries. This year’s scholarship was awarded to Blake Putnam, a Joplin High senior interested in pursuing film and media as Will had intended to do.
Tuesday’s events balanced reflection on the past with hope for the future symbolized by the time capsule, a tree planting, song, words of encouragement, and the dedication of the destroyed St. John’s Hospital land for a new elementary school, a theater, a chapel and a memorial.
“This was your defining moment,” Convoy of Hope Founder Hal Donaldson told the 8,000 gathered. “In the decades to come, it will be said the foundation of Joplin, Missouri, was the courage and resiliency of its citizens.”
City Manager Mark Rohr said 67 percent of 7,500 homes damaged or destroyed are already under permit, being built, repaired or are occupied. He said Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce records show 85 percent of 550 affected businesses are either open or in process of being rebuilt.
“You are part of the miracle of the human spirit,” he said.
The City of Joplin is accepting applications through Friday for the first grants to be awarded by the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund, one of 22 established at the CFO and its Joplin-based affiliate, the Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri, Inc. In all, generous donors have contributed $9.4 million to those funds. For more information, visit: www.joplinrecoveryfund.org.