Greensburg tornado transplants say there is no place like home
Stewart and Virginia Hammond of Marion lived in Greensburg when an F-5 tornado destroyed almost the entire town on May 4, 2007. They lost their house and almost all their belongings.
They moved to Marion in August of that year after their son Chris and family, who also lost a house in the storm, moved here.
However, it seems they left their hearts behind.
“We like the Marion community really well,” Virginia said. “We just don’t have any close friends. Close friends are made when you are young.”
“Marion is nice, but it’s not home,” Chris said.
Virginia said they have good neighbors who welcomed them with cookies. They were pleased to find that Carl Helm was pastor of Marion Christian Church. He was their minister in Greensburg for a time.
The move to a new community was the hardest on Stewart, who was 79 at the time.
“He lost interest in everything,” Virginia said.
The loss of their home cost Stewart a lifetime of memories. He lived all his life in Greensburg, where he was a farmer and rancher. He had to move away from longtime fishing buddies and close friends.
“It changed his life,” Virginia said.
They were active in the Greensburg community including participation in church, 4-H, and Farm Bureau. Stewart was an Eastern Star member of the Masons and was the commander of the American Legion post at Greensburg for 20 years.
Their age made it difficult to reach out and become involved in a new community.
“If we had stayed in Greensburg, we would still be involved in things,” Virginia said.
It was easier for her to adjust to a new community because she was a registered nurse and was used to traveling and meeting new people in her job as a state health facilities inspector for over 20 years.
“I found a good friend who introduced me to people,” she said.
After moving to Marion, she got a job with Hospice of Kansas out of McPherson.
She enjoys visits to Marion Senior Center and is a member of TOPS KS 1075 Marion. She also teaches certified nurse aide classes through Butler of Marion.
The Hammonds share a house with Chris, and his wife, Lanissa. Chris is a train engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad.
Chris described their move to Marion as a roller coaster experience. He said they moved to Greensburg from Herington so their children could be close to their grandparents. They expected to settle there permanently, but Mother Nature had other plans.
Lanissa said her job as a para-educator at Marion Elementary School helped her to learn to know people. She now works as a certified medication aide at Marion Assisted Living.
“I’ve found out a lot of people from Marion and surrounding communities are related to each other,” she said.
The couple’s teenage children were traumatized from the Greensburg tornado and still cannot bear to go through an automatic car wash, especially the blow dryer at the end of the cycle. Their youngest son, Colton, still is afraid of storms. Their 15-year-old cat, Boots, survived the tornado and hides when the wind blows.
Son Zach, who was 13 when they moved to Marion, handled the transition well, his mother said. He became involved in soccer and baseball. It took Lakisha, 14, a while longer to make friends but she became a cheerleader.
The Hammonds said they learned many valuable lessons from their experience, which they hope they can pass on to others.
First, they learned it is important to heed storm warnings.
“The sirens were going off all day long,” Virginia said, “but Greensburg always got warnings. We were in that area where storms tended to form.
“Use common sense in responding to a storm threat,” she said. “Put shoes on, put on clothes, and have a change of clothes available.”
Don’t forget your medicines and a flashlight and have some way to keep in contact with your family, she added. If a storm hits, notify family afterward that you are all right.
She also suggested having a weather radio.
Virginia said she used to collect many things but objects don’t mean as much anymore.
Her last bit of advice is not to make major decisions too quickly after a loss. She said Greensburg is rebuilding and now has 800 residents.
“We’ve thought about going back,” the 77-year-old woman said, “but most of our friends are gone or dead.”
Her son echoed her thoughts.
“I’m glad I didn’t think of rebuilding in Greensburg because nothing is the same there,” he said.
Last modified April 23, 2015