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Monday, April 21, 2014

On tornado anniversary, Greensburg reflects

BY BECCY TANNER
The Wichita Eagle

Scott Reinecke puts a positive spin on the life he has now.

He and his wife, Susan, married for 23 years, are closer than they've ever been.

Both enjoy their dream jobs in their dream business, Studio 54 Stained Glass.

They live in a new house in a new town.

But there are moments when the third-generation Greensburg family remembers how life used to be — before an EF-5 tornado tore through the town on May 4, 2007, destroying almost all its hometown.

"I've heard it said the tornado was a blessing,'' Scott Reinecke said. "I like to stay away from saying that because there are... people who are (not) in a better situation — whether career-wise or where they are living. ...

"But as far as myself and my wife, we are in a better place today than we were before the storm."

On the weekend of April 30-May 2, the town of Greensburg is hosting an anniversary celebration filled with a variety of community events. The highlights include a May 1 concert featuring country singer George Jones and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Kiowa County United, a retail center featuring nine businesses.

Reinecke said any proceeds from the concert will go toward rebuilding the town's Twilight Theater — a building that will showcase movies and serve as the school auditorium.

"It's been three years, and we are very positive and looking forward," said Reinecke, president of the Spirit of Greensburg.

"We do miss our old Greensburg. It's like when someone passes away. You miss them. You love them. You wish you had them back — but that's not reality, and so you move forward."

Immediately after the town was devastated by the tornado, it began rebuilding. Almost everything had to be rebuilt. Homes, businesses, the school, hospital, City Hall and a power plant were all destroyed. Eleven people were killed.

Before the tornado, 1,400 residents called Greensburg home. Now, there are 900.

"Before, it was the typical small town," said Steve Hewitt, Greensburg's city administrator. "We were just trying to hang in there and get by. We were dealing with life day to day.

"Today, it is a different demographic with a different direction. We are still at the core a rural community that's agricultural based, but the tornado put us in a position to grow."

In the three years since the storm, the town has constructed more than 150 new homes and 20 new businesses. New streets and utilities have been built.

"This community is a great example of how hard and tough you have to be to fight through this kind of thing," Hewitt said. "People here don't take things lying down. We still have our values and core beliefs — we've had to get through this. "

The city is rebuilding as a green community — Earth-friendly and energy-efficient.

"This anniversary is an opportunity for us to focus on what we have accomplished and what we have yet to do," Hewitt said.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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