Husband Of Victim
Says, 'It Means So
Much To Me That
People Really Care'
BY LISA WARREN
CAMP CREEK -- One year ago, a night of terror blew into rural Greene County, leaving behind destroyed homes, scattered possessions and broken lives.
Although there was major property damage in several areas of the county, the most terrible losses were the eight individuals who perished from the tornadoes that struck the Camp Creek and Horse Creek communities, and just over the Greene/Washington county line in the South Central area.
Hearing his wife's voice is what James "Mike" McKinney said he misses the most.
A long-haul trucker, McKinney said he was away from home on the night of April 27, 2011. He and his wife had spoken on the phone less than an hour before the storm hit.
It would be their last conversation.
Shirley McKinney was killed when the violent twister tore apart their home, their barn and nearly every possession they owned.
Her husband's face still displays the grief from that day.
Yet, he knows that life must continue -- even if he and many others will never forget that night or the loved ones who were taken from them.
On Saturday afternoon, one year and a day after his wife's death, McKinney sat in a grassy field in the heart of the Camp Creek community, where a monument to the storm victims was dedicated.
McKinney was surrounded at the service by hundreds of other individuals who had also been affected, in one way or another, by the storms that brought so much loss.
"It means so much to me that people really care," he said.
Several of the individuals present were persons, like McKinney, who had also lost loved ones.
Others were among the hundreds who had lost their home or suffered major damage to their property.
Also among the crowd were persons who had responded to help that night, including those who came out in the storm to clear downed trees and power lines from roads so emergency vehicles and personnel could reach those in desperate need.
Others in that same Camp Creek field were among the hundreds of volunteers who, during the past year, have helped to put roofs back over heads and hope back in hearts.
In the center of the memorial is a stone with the names of Shirley Sachie McKinney, Bobby Gene Harrison, Jeffrey McGill, Marty Joe Myers, Brenda Gail Myers, Doug Penley, Bessie Lynne Rice and Jess Lester Richesin -- all lives cut short by the storm.
Dallas Penley, the brother of Doug Penley, was among those present for the memorial service, which was organized by the Camp Creek Ruritan Club.
He expressed his gratitude toward everyone who turned out for the dedication.
"Doug would be very happy that he was remembered, as would be the other seven that were lost," he said.
In addition to the fatalities, 236 homes were reported destroyed by the tornadoes and 273 people were injured, county officials reported.
The Greene County Emergency Management Agency estimated that $12 million worth of damage was done to the area from the storms.
FLAGS AND A DOVE
A multitude of volunteers came to assist recovery efforts, not only from Tennessee, but also from outside the state, including North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
At the start of the memorial service, a hush fell over the large crowd as members of Boy Scout Troop No. 96 presented the colors and hoisted the American, Tennessee and Ruritan flags above the monument.
The service then followed with a moving, personal honor to those who died from the storm.
A white dove was released into flight as each victim's name was read aloud.
A family representative escorted by a Ruritan representative then came forward from the crowd and placed a rose on the memorial stone beside their loved one's name.
A lone bagpiper performed a moving rendition of "Amazing Grace," bringing many in the crowd to tears.
The $10,000 to fund the memorial was raised by the Camp Creek Ruritan Club.
The stone structure and landscaping was completed within 90 days, according to Wayne Bettis, a member of the Camp Creek Ruritan Club who proposed and led the project.
"It has been fantastic what has happened," Bettis said.
Earlier in the month, the Greene County Board of Education voted unanimously to deed property for the memorial, which is located adjacent to Camp Creek Elementary School.
ROE READS SCRIPTURE
Among those attending the memorial service and dedication and addressing the crowd was U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City.
Roe began his talk by reading Psalm 57 from the Bible:
"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy;
"I look to you for protection;
"I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this violent storm has passed."
Roe thanked everyone in attendance at the event, including the family members of those who had died from the storm.
He also recognized Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles, Greene County Sheriff Steve Burns and his department, Greene County Emergency Management Agency Director Bill Brown, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the local volunteer fire departments, state and federal officials, and the numerous other officials and volunteers who assisted in the recovery effort.
PRAISE FOR RESPONSE
Roe also praised the efforts of Dr. James Kilgore, president and CEO of Free Will Baptist Family Ministries.
In less than two days after the disaster occurred, Roe pointed out that the outpouring of donations and supplies from the community had filled the gymnasium at FWBFM's main campus in Camp Creek with needed items for tornado survivors.
"I don't know of any other community who could have done that," Roe said.
"We're not called the Volunteer State for nothing," he added. "You can see why right here!"
Also participating in the ceremonies were: Ruritan National President Phyllis Lewter; Donnie Mace, president of Camp Creek Ruritan; Bettis, a member of Camp Creek Ruritan and a former Ruritan National president; Dr. Vicki Kirk, director of the Greene County Schools; Mayor Broyles; the Rev. Ken Smith and Pastor Steve Burkhart.
Musical performances were presented by Laura Taliaferro, Tracy Barfield and Will Clark.
A SENSE OF CLOSURE
Kilgore, of FWBFM, said he feels that the monument will help to bring some closure to what has occurred during the past year.
"I want to say how much I appreciate the Camp Creek Ruritan for making this happen," Kilgore said.
The monument is "great for the families. It is great for the community. It is great for everyone," he added.
Michelle Torres, whose sister died from the storm, said she wanted to thank everyone who came out to help her family and for all of the prayers following the disaster.
Torres said she is also grateful for the special memorial that has been erected to honor the memories of the victims who died.
It is a place for the families to come to remember their loved one, Torres said.
"This is our memorial. We can come and remember them here."
The Rev. Ken Smith, chaplain of the Camp Creek Ruritan, said he moved by the community response to aid the tornado victims following the disaster.
"They saturated our neighborhood trying to bring healing and help," Smith said.
Pastor Steve Burkhart, of Carter County, who was among the multitude of volunteers who have assisted in the recovery effort, also spoke at the event.
While the volunteers, he said, came to Camp Creek and Horse Creek to provide help to the storm survivors. It was those survivors who actually provided help and blessings to the volunteers.
"We were blessed by so many of the survivors," Burkhart said.
Burkhart shared a story by a young child who was so excited to see his new home, complete with a front porch.
"I've always wanted a porch to play on," the young boy said. "And God has given me a porch - with a house attached to it!"
During the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Camp Creek Ruritan Clubhouse, Rurital National President Phyllis Lewter commented that more than $80,000 had been raised for relief efforts for "Operation We Care" on behalf of the 1,100 Ruritan clubs in 26 states.
She presented a framed proclamation to be hung in the new Camp Creek Ruritan building once it is completed.
Dr. Vicki Kirk, director of Greene County Schools, said that understanding why terrible things happen is difficult to understand.
Yet, out of horrible circumstances can often come good things.
"As soon as the sun was up on the morning following the storms, neighbors were out helping neighbors," Kirk said.
"While we may never understand why this happened, we can appreciate the compassion that happened afterward," Kirk added.
Another building that is being built on the property is a new clubhouse for the Camp Creek Ruritan Club, which will double as a community center. Plans call for the structure to include a tornado shelter.
A groundbreaking for that project was also held Saturday at the conclusion of the memorial service.
A major financial boost to the building project was given on Saturday with an anonymous donation of $25,000, made in honor of Camp Creek residents and Ruritan members Bea and Allan Brown.