Woodward, Okla. —
That seemed to be the theme of Woodward's Tornado Recovery Tribute ceremony held Monday night at the Woodward Conference Center.
Specifically how the city of Woodward went from being overwhelmed by disaster and devastation, to being overwhelmed by an outpouring of donations, support, volunteers and heroism.
"We're here tonight not to commemorate that loss, but to celebrate our community," City Manager Alan Riffel said. "To celebrate the fact of how we pull together in times of need."
Riffel said that when he speaks of community, he speaks not only of the citizens of Woodward, but people from throughout the region.
"We speak of Northwest Oklahoma as one place, that's because we are," he said.
That never proved more true than the response the whole region showed, both immediately and in the days after the April 15, 2012 tornado, Riffel said.
"I was never so proud as to see what happened in that first 24 hours in terms of the emergency response," he said. "But what happened over the next week was even more amazing to me as a city manager (in terms of community response)."
Riffel first spoke of the quick and organized response of first responders from both local and outside agencies to conduct search and rescue operations.
"We had many, many uniforms showing up that night, that goes to show how well trained they are," he said.
Those uniforms included police officers, sheriff's deputies, firefighters, emergency managers, and Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers.
"It was phenomenal to see those first responders go to work," agreed State Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward, who also made some remarks at Monday's tribute.
While grateful for all the first responders who heroically came forward that night to help rescue lives, special recognition was given to area OHP troopers by State Insurance Commissioner John Doak.
Doak presented citations of appreciation Monday night to Troopers Mike Fike, Pat Fike, Chance Husted, James Crowder, Cody Rehder, and Phillip Ludwyck to recognize their "faithful" and "heroic service" to the community of Woodward following the tornado.
After the emergency rescue operations were completed, clean up efforts began in full force.
And that's when dozens of area businesses, agencies and organizations responded with their outpouring of support for those digging out from the rubble, Riffel said.
A number of community heroes stepped up during this time, from churches providing meals to local companies providing equipment to volunteers offering their helping hands.
The City of Enid was given special recognition and presented with a proclamation declaring their status as a "Community Hero" for providing 2 grappling trucks for Woodward's use at no expense to help clear some of the more than 41,000 cubic tons of debris created by the tornado. Enid Mayor Bill Shewey and Enid City Manager Eric Benson were on hand to accept the proclamation
The Apache Corporation was also proclaimed a "Community Hero" and presented with special recognition for the company's initiative in coming forward with a $350,000 donation to help Woodward "rebuild, rebound and be prepared for the future" by providing for a new, state-of-the-art outdoor siren warning system with battery backup.
"There's a lot of people we've thanked tonight and a lot of people we've acknowledged, but we know we can never get them all," Riffel said of the many other community heroes who have contributed to Woodward's recovery in one way or another.
For example, he spoke of the many monetary donations that came in following the storm to help those who had lost so much.
"We got them from Australia, we got them from Canada. We got them from little towns, big towns, little kids, old folks, just every kind," Riffel said of the donations.
Then there were all the neighbors helping neighbors. John Elam, chair of the Recovery Woodward organization that helped distribute the donated money to victims, spoke of one family of heroes that stood out to him.
Elam said that Recovery Woodward was "a couple months in" the case management and fund distribution process when they learned of a family "that still had a lot of needs."
"I asked how did we miss this?" he said. But he soon learned that while "this family was impacted by the tornado, they had neighbors who had lost more than they did and so they gave what they had to them. They just made do and didn't want to ask for help."
For someone who had lost so much and still be willing to give to others who were impacted more, Elam said, "I want to be a neighbor like that."
In all, he said the response of Woodward citizens helping each other reminds him of scripture in Galatians 6, "where it says 'bear one another's burdens....'"
"That's what our community did. We stood beside one another, we helped, we cared," Elam said.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said that it was the community coming together as it did that makes Woodward such a special place.
Lamb spoke of visiting Woodward the day after the tornado and touring the damaged areas, speaking with some of the people who were starting the clean up process.
In speaking with one man who lost his home, Lamb said, "I asked him, 'you were struck hard, so are you thinking about moving out of Woodward?' He said, 'No way would I move out of Woodward. With how my neighbors helped me, how strangers helped me, and the first responders (did their jobs), never would I move out of Woodward."
In addition to his remarks about how it is "imbedded in Oklahoma's soul and it's citizens that we take care of one another," the Lt. Gov. also made a special presentation of his own.
Lamb presented Woodward Mayor Roscoe Hill with a Governor's Commendation recognizing Hill's "exceptional leadership by personally reaching out to the citizens of his community, committing countless hours of service to their needs."
Receiving the commendation made the mayor "pretty emotional."
"I'm just overwhelmed," he said.
The humble Hill also said he didn't feel that he was the one who earned the recognition.
"I don't deserve this, you guys do," he said, speaking to the local law enforcement officers and firefighters who were in attendance.
In addition, he indicated there were many others in the community also deserving of recognition.
"It's just amazing to me the outpouring of community effort we had going; it was overwhelming," Hill said.
So when accepting the commendation, the mayor said, "I accept this on behalf of our city."