Pierce City takes rebuilding break to mark town's birth

Sunday, May 18, 2003

PIERCE CITY, Mo. -- Residents were looking to the future as much as the past Saturday night as their tornado-ravaged town celebrated its 133rd birthday.

The party turned into a pep talk as about 70 people -- many weary from clearing tornado debris -- gathered at the Harold Bell Wright Museum in Pierce City to eat cake and reminisce.

Some brought photo albums that marked the town's humble beginnings in 1870. A few also carried pictures of the aftermath of May 4 tornado that killed one resident and pummeled the downtown.

They also paid tribute to their oldest resident -- Lottie Whittington, 102, who was unable to attend -- as well as the youngest resident, Landen Jeffrey Taylor, born May 6, who slept through the party.

"He hasn't woke up for much," said his father, Jeff Taylor.

But residents wanted mostly to talk about their visions for rebuilding the downtown business district that had once thrived with tourists hunting for antiques or a candlelight dinner.

That was good news for Scott Rector, president of the town's chamber of commerce. Freda Mae's, the tea room and antique shop that he and wife Lynette had opened a year ago, was among the businesses destroyed by the tornado.

Rector acknowledged that many in the town of 1,400 were struggling with the aftermath and the uncertainty of the future.

"Let's keep our faith up," he told those gathered. "I am hopeful about the future."

Mayor Mark Peters predicted future generations would be proud to call Pierce City home.

"We will rebuild. We will be back," he said later. "I don't know what we'll look like, but we will thrive."

Peters said he has been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support. President Bush visited the town Tuesday to remind residents that the country was praying for them.

"So many people are going unthanked, and it's a real shame," Peters said. "I hope everyone will come back next year and we'll thank you proper."

Among the guests was Phil Nordin, senior pastor of Jubilee Christian Centre, in Calgary, Alberta. He was moved by media reports of how the tornado had shattered structures and peeled away store fronts.

Nordin brought word that his church had collected $10,000 to help victims, and that a team of eight Canadians would join him May 26 in the city to help with the reconstruction effort.

Besides bringing notes of encouragement from government officials, Nordin said: "We love the American people. We love what you've done in the war on terror."

State Rep. Jack Goodman, who grew up in Pierce City, said, "As we mark our 133rd birthday, we say goodbye to a part of the past for our city. We also faces changes that we would never have anticipated, but we look forward to it."

Laura Ann Vore, curator of the Wright museum, said it was appropriate that the former church was used for the gathering. Wright was the pastor of Pierce City Disciples of Christ Christian Church from 1896-1898, before writing his famous "Shepherd of the Hills."

"The more I see, the more upset I become," Vore said of the tornado's destruction. "This is a strong town. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but it will get done."

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