Oklahoma tornadoes: A cemetery cleanup to remember long past Memorial Day

“EVERBODY IS A PART OF MOORE” — When this city asked for help repairing its tornado-damaged cemetery, it unleashed days of pent-up desire to help and 1,000 volunteers grateful to make a difference.
by Ed Godfrey Published: May 22, 2013

MOORE — Oklahomans wanted to help. They were just waiting to be asked.

On Wednesday, days of pent-up desire to help a tornado-ravaged community was unleashed at the Moore Cemetery.

With funerals looming and the Memorial Day weekend approaching, hundreds of Oklahomans responded to a request for volunteers to clean the cemetery littered by Monday's horrific twister.

Among them was Angela Lindsey of Midwest City, a 1986 graduate of Moore High School who returned to help her hometown on Wednesday.

“I want to do something,” she said. “I got to do something. I can't just sit anymore.”

Also there was Connie Carpenter of Guthrie, a 1981 Moore High School graduate.

“Moore is my home. It's where I'm from,” she said. “I am here to do my part for my community. Whether I live 500 miles away or 50 miles away, this is always my home, and if they need me, I am here for them.”

Others there, such as Carrie Roshong of Oklahoma City, didn't have any personal connection to Moore.

“I don't have any money to give, so I am just trying to help where I can,” she said.

Todd Jenson, parks and recreation director for the City of Moore, knew people in the community were desperate to help and that the Moore Cemetery was in bad shape.

“We probably had 100 trees there (before Monday's tornado), and now there are five or 10,” Jenson said.

The cemetery needed to be cleaned before Memorial Day weekend and to prepare for burials, he said.

“There is a little bit of urgency,” he said. “We think in the next week or so we are going to have some burials, not necessarily associated with the tornado (although) some may be, but just the normal burials at the cemetery. We have to get it in shape.”

An impromptu plea for volunteers was made Tuesday for volunteers to meet on Wednesday morning and help pick up trash and debris at the cemetery.

Word spread like wildfire through social media and almost 600 volunteers showed up at the Moore Community Center by 9 a.m. Wednesday with rakes, shovels, chainsaws, trucks and front-end loaders.

“It's unbelievable,” Jenson said. “We didn't expect this much.”

An hour later, the estimated number of volunteers had grown to more than 1,000.

Moore school buses were used to transport volunteers from the community center to the cemetery, but most people made the mile-long walk across the Fourth Street Bridge, where many paused to view the damage around the Warren Theater for the first time.

Along the route, the Mercy Health Clinic had a canopy for people to stop and receive a tetanus shot if needed.

Upon arriving and beginning work at the cemetery, the volunteers quickly learned they were not only picking up debris, but literally picking up pieces of people's lives.

Wedding and yearbook photographs, slides, birth certificates, family histories, a handmade quilt, insurance and medical cars were just some of the personal items scattered over the grounds.

“It makes you want to cry,” said Darcy Jones of Oklahoma City.

One person even found a photograph of tornado damage in Moore from May 3, 1999.

“It's just overwhelming to think that all of this stuff at one point was in someone's home,” Rachel Prince of Oklahoma City said.

Oklahomans who answered the call to clear the cemetery of debris and trash literally came from border to border. There were volunteers there from as far away as Miami and Ardmore.

While many shoveled, raked and bagged debris, others cleaned tombstones and pulled stumps.

Within two hours, the small army of volunteers made a huge difference in the cemetery's appearance. And more volunteers kept arriving, each with their own reason for helping.

Robert Sutton of Oklahoma City had a debt to repay. Fourteen years ago, his Moore home was pummeled by another killer twister.

“The people poured their heart out to me,” he said. “I want to return the favor.”

Allison Revas and her two children were picking up trash because her Moore home was spared.

“We have a lot of friends that have lost everything,” she said. “We are fortunate enough to have our house. We just wanted to give back to the community because we know so many people that have lost everything.”

Larry Jolliff of Yukon was sweating in a Moore cemetery on Wednesday morning because of family.

“A lot of people lost a lot and the children touched me as much as any,” said Jolliff, his voice quivering. “We've got nine grandkids and it's hard to imagine what the parents and grandparents are going through.”

Perhaps Randy Butler of Mustang described everyone's feelings the best.

“I think everybody in Oklahoma right now feels like they are part of the Moore community,” he said.


by Ed Godfrey
Reporter Sr.
Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more...
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