The most interesting part of my conversation with Joe Rossi was not his account of his house being damaged in a tornado, nor his story of almost drowning on Table Rock Lake, but the fact that he told me to “have a good day,” at the end of our visit.
It was a remarkable display of kindness for a man standing above the wreckage of the Endeavor to Persevere.
To most who saw it, the Endeavor to Persevere was nothing more than a dinky yellow and white vessel with an outboard motor and its best years on the water left long behind it in its wake. But to Joe Rossi, the boat represented years of work, dreams and family memories. It was a vessel as noble as the Pequod or the We’re Here, the sort of boat that Herman Melville or Rudyard Kipling would write about.
It wasn’t the sea or even a lake that did in the Endeavor to Persevere, but a tornado that hit Ozark on April 30. As Rossi and his wife took shelter in the house they rent, high winds picked up the small boat and tossed it about 50 feet to the north. The boat landed upside down, Mother Nature dropping it unceremoniously as a toddler might drop a toy.
To most us, it’s just a boat. For Joe Rossi, it was so much more. From the name of that boat, Rossi’s neighbors in the Waterford and Rivers subdivisions seemed to take inspiration as they picked up the pieces of their homes and their belongings.
As I walked through the neighborhood taking pictures, talking to people and experiencing the aftermath on an EF2 tornado on May 1, I didn’t see much crying. I didn’t see many signs of despair or hopelessness. People were upset, sure, but they weren’t wallowing in the depths of their despair.
In the neighborhood, people sifted through the rubble, saved what they would and loaded everything else into dumpsters.
They still greeted strangers. They welcomed volunteers who brought coffee, donuts and bottled water. They were kind to the emergency responders and CERT volunteers who stopped by to check on them.
Outside the tornado-ravaged neighborhood, Ozark rallied around those who suffered the worst. Restaurants donated food to police officers. Church groups put together truckloads of supplies. Ozark School District Superintendent Chris Bauman checked on families of students.
In short, Ozark got hit in the mouth, but it put itself back together after the storm. It says a lot for the town’s character.
There really isn’t a right way or a wrong way for a newspaper to cover a natural disaster. With a staff as small as what we have at the Headliner News, we tried to do the best we could to tell the whole story within the time we had to do it. We tried to find the right mix of stories of tornado victims, first responders and volunteers, and we also tried to let you know what you can do if you feel compelled to help. The Christian County Emergency Management Agency and the Ozark Cares Network have some of the best resources for that.
Events like this give us perspective. They make us feel small and insignificant in relation to how large the world is and how powerful the forces of nature can be. It also puts material and property in their proper place, paling in comparison to the value of a human life.
People lost houses, cars and boats that they worked for years to have, but no one lost their life on April 30. There’s a lot about that to feel grateful and humble for.