MULHALL — Kelli Kindschi cried when the bulldozers came. In the days after the May 3, 1999, tornado that destroyed much of Mulhall, Kindschi, a social studies teacher, and other teachers sifted through the debris that used to be their classrooms at Mulhall-Orlando Elementary School.
“We spent days going through the rubble. You just felt like you had to do something,” Kindschi said. “It really did wipe out the town. It just looked like a war zone.” Then the bulldozers came to move the piles, and the school was gone. One of the few things Kindschi recovered was a rocking chair she sat in to read to students. Friends found the chair away from the school site and returned it to her; she uses the rocker in her classroom today. Despite the damage, there was never any question that the community would rebuild the school. Residents wouldn't have allowed anything else, she said, and they wouldn't have wanted their children to be spread among three other school districts. So students went to school in portable buildings for two years at the high school in Orlando while the elementary was rebuilt. In a way, it turned out for the best, Kindschi said. Though the town is different, most people were able to rebuild and teachers and students got a new building that they probably never would have gotten otherwise. Generosity came from everywhere, she said, and the school is still using donated notebook paper 10 years later. “In Oklahoma, tragedy always brings goodness,” Kindschi said.