Backroads Journal

Kansas Spirit in Greensburg

It seems like every week brings more news about some small town somewhere being devastated by a tornado.  The words flow about heartbreak, neighbors helping neighbors, strength, faith and vows to rebuild.  We hear Mike Seidel or Jim Cantore, from The Weather Channel, reporting the stories behind the scene about personal tragedy and hope.  Those same reports were flowing out of Greensburg, Kansas nearly five years ago. 

Greensburg was almost totally wiped off the map by a massive EF5 tornado and yet, we immediately heard those promises to rebuild and come back as a stronger community.  After the Weather Channel trucks pull out and move on to the next natural disaster, what really happens in those hard-hit communities?  With rural communities across the country struggling just to survive, how do you rebuild an entire town? 

Heading out to meet our daughter and her family in Breckenridge for a snowy get-away, we purposefully took the southern route from Wichita through Pratt and Greensburg to check on the progress of the grand rebuild.  Now, whoever linked the name “Greensburg” and the idea to rebuild as a new, energy efficient “Green Community” had some genius cells floating around in their head.  From day two, even before the rubble had been cleared from the streets, creative energy and reconstruction funds have been flowing in and out of Greensburg.

It’s worth the drive from anywhere you might be to experience the energy and creative forces at work in Greensburg.  We drove up and down the streets, still mostly barren of trees, fascinated by the variety of home designs, beautiful public buildings and the beginnings of a beautiful, new commercial district.  A clean, new Kiowa County Memorial Hospital sits proudly under two huge, white wind turbines on the west edge of town.  The flattened high school has been replaced by rambling, new, state-of-the-art school complex.  Down the street from the school sits the Kiowa County Commons with city offices, historical museum, library and media center.  There will soon be a new theater complex on Main Street.  Even the Big Well is getting a fabulous, new make-over.  Everywhere you look there are wind turbines, solar panels and innovative design.

I would expect an affluent, urban center to take the high road of energy efficiency in rebuilding, but conservative, rural Kansas Greensburg?  How do you convince a small community to set the bar so high?  Not only are they rebuilding, they are building a statement of Kansas values.  Our motto, “Ad astra per aspera”, means “To the stars through difficulties”.  Greensburg is doing that, as well as defining community spirit, love of the land and striving to better their situation.  Greensburg is on its way back from the devastation of five years ago.  They are building a better, stronger and “greener” community.

If you haven’t been that way for a while, take the drive out US 400 and visit Greensburg again.  We need to encourage and congratulate the pride and spirit of Kansas that is at work in Greensburg.

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