June 16, 2024

Beginning to heal: Gathering lets residents heal, reflect

Glow sticks lit the early night sky on the Adair County Courthouse lawn at the conclusion of the Greenfield Strong Gathering held Tuesday, May 28.

Country music artist Jelly Roll sings, “I’m not OK, but it’s all gonna be alright,” in a song he released May 21, the same day a tornado hit Greenfield.

The song lyric has become a sort of anthem for some Greenfielders as the whole town, and other parts of Adair County, has begun to heal, come together and recover from a tragic event.

A large group of people waved glow sticks and their cell phone flashlights as that song played at the conclusion of an event called the “Greenfield Strong Gathering” Tuesday, May 28 on the Adair County Courthouse lawn.

Des Moines television stations covered the event and were able to witness a community that still hurts, but came together anyway at the event.

The event was initiated by Greenfield Chamber Main Street. Pastor Steven Broers of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Fontanelle was master of ceremonies. Many other community leaders also took the microphone.

“We feel relief and we feel guilt. We feel angry and we feel hope. A lot of us just feel numb,” Broers said.

Broers shared something a community member wrote about their experience of being unable to focus or sleep after the tornado. They also wrote on the realization that those who “stayed strong” after the tornado were the ones “holding up” their community that was in crisis.

“I don’t have a good answer for why this had to happen, but I know that God is with you, and that He loves you,” Broers said.

You can feel that message in many places around town, Broers said. You could see it as neighbors pulled neighbors to safety immediately following the tornado, and in the emergency responders who rescued people and rushed them to hospitals in neighboring towns.

The storm reminded many people that material things ultimately aren’t the things that matter, Broers said. A tornado like this can’t take away friendships or community.

“It cannot take away your faith...your faith in Jesus,” Broers said. “A tornado cannot really take away the things that matter because we recognize the non-material things are what matter a lot more. The people around us matter a lot more to us.”

Broers said he believes the community feels a lot stronger and more connected than it has in a long time. This event has inspired people’s faith. He said he’s heard stories of people praying for the first time in a long time, and asking faith questions they’ve struggled to ask before.

Emmanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Steven Broers leads the Greenfield Strong Gathering, surrounded by other faith leaders and community leaders.

“People who have lost everything are thanking God for the things that they still have,” he said. “You may not feel much hope right now — and I understand that, it’s only been a week — but tonight, together, I pray you’ll at least feel the love of your community and the love of God holding you up.”

Nodaway Valley softball and girls basketball coach Brian Eisbach, who is also a community leader as a banker and through the Chamber, took the microphone to share a few thoughts.

Eisbach said he’s proud to call Greenfield and Adair County home. “I’m proud to work here, I’m proud to coach here and I’m proud to raise my family here,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter your political affiliation, your religious beliefs or what walk of life you’re from, we’re all in this together,” Eisbach said. “A week ago tragedy struck and we were immediately reminded of why this place is special. People ran toward the danger.”

Eisbach talked about first responders, law enforcement and medical professionals springing into action. He talked about the elementary school becoming a place where medical care is given. He talked about Schildberg Construction opening local quarries where debris could be taken. He talked about how local churches sprang into action and barely stopped to breath in the last week providing various resources and love to the community. He spoke about food trucks and local restaurants providing free food thanks to donations that were given.

“The outside help we’ve received has been absolutely amazing and is so appreciated. But, if you think back to the first 36 hours after the tornado, it was mostly Adair County folks doing what we do,” Eisbach said. “In the next few weeks, when the news stops covering the cleanup and destruction, we must remain strong in our sense of community. We must continue to show each other love and grace. We must continue to help each other whenever possible, because that’s what good neighbors do. Most importantly, we must be brave enough to ask each other for help.”

Nodaway Valley Middle School Principal and 7-12 Activities Director Sara Honnold shared a few thoughts on behalf of the school district, saying open houses held for students to come in, see their teacher again and retrieve their belongings from the school year that ended prematurely, went well.

Adair County Health Systems CEO Catherine Hillstead shared pertinent updates on the hospital, which is operating urgent care and clinic services right now out of the elementary school.

Hillestad also talked a lot about longtime hospital volunteer Pam Wiggins. She had been a foundation board member and auxiliary member for ACHS.

All five people who lost their lives in the tornado were prayed for during the gathering: Monica Zamorran, a Southwest Iowa Egg employee who was from Shenandoah; Dean and Pam Wiggins of Greenfield, who were beloved church and community volunteers for decades; Michael Jensen, who was a veteran, a railroad worker of over 30 years and an avid collector of many things; and Lee Williamson, who was a longtime welder, and in retirement, enjoyed the outdoors by golfing, fishing and hunting, and spending time as a dog owner.

A moment of silence was held during the gathering for the community, but especially these five people.

Memorial services have already been held for three of the four who died in Adair County from the tornado.

“Give us healing and give us peace. Help us to start to not be so afraid,” Broers prayed. “I pray You would keep people loving one another, serving one another and keep that compassion high.”

Around town, the sounds of search and rescue from immediately following the tornado have given way to sounds of cleanup, which now have given way to sounds of repair on homes that needs done immediately. Eventually, for many, those sounds will give way to the sounds of homes and businesses being built as the town starts to rebuild.

This week, Mayor Jimmie Schultz said that progress in the cleanup phase after the tornado has been good.

“Each day, we’re getting a little closer,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go with it. Each day is better than the day before.”

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.