Families find Greensburg a good place to start anew

Roofers put the finishing touches on a building along Kansas Avenue in Greensburg.
Roofers put the finishing touches on a building along Kansas Avenue in Greensburg. File photo

GREENSBURG — The city's rebirth after a devastating tornado four years ago has attracted some people trying to make new lives for themselves and their families.

They have moved into a town that is still rebuilding from the tornado May 4, 2007, that destroyed 90 percent of the community and killed 13 people. They came pursuing jobs, a chance to live in an environmentally friendly community and a small-town, friendly place for their children to grow.

One of them is Kirk Miller, who moved in with his family last year to teach social studies and science at the Kiowa County school district, which is wrapping up its first academic year. Miller said it turned out to be a good move.

"Everything is brand new. I didn't have to pay the prices to get what I got," he said while sitting in the lunchroom of the gleaming new school. "I'm very fortunate. These people suffered to get what they got."

Linaka Probst, owner of Mackie Shae Boutique, opened her shop just over a year ago after moving from Amarillo, Texas, because her husband found work with a Kiowa County farmer. Her shop is in the Kiowa County United Retail Center, part of an effort to provide affordable spaces for shop owners to rent.

Opportunity also brought Andy and Jennifer Kooken to Greensburg. Jennifer grew up in the community but moved away for college. After the tornado, her husband, a butcher in a Ulysses grocery store, decided Greensburg needed a meat market and sandwich shop.

He opened Kook's Meat in what was once the town's Pizza Hut. Jennifer works as an insurance agent.

The community has rebuilt to a 2011 census of 777 residents, a little more than half the pre-tornado count of 1,498.

Those who stayed after the tornado generally had jobs at one of two gas plants or the school, banks, hospital, county or city, said city treasurer Pam Reves. Those who moved in saw opportunity in the town's decision to become environmentally friendly.

"We were looking for change after my wife lost her teaching position because of budget cuts," Miller said. "We wanted to raise our family in a progressive community, not a regressive one."

The town's friendly, family atmosphere was also a big draw.

"They opened their arms to us," said Marla Miller, who works as a paraprofessional. She also likes that her two younger children, Payton, 15, and Jansen, 13, are surrounded by kids who know about survival and rebuilding.

"It's a good opportunity for our kids to learn you can be down, but not out," she said.

The biggest obstacle has been housing. The Millers had to downsize from a large four-bedroom home to renting at the Oakview Townhouses where the former Greensburg High School stood.

But Miller said the community's togetherness and pride in the new surroundings made the move successful. Perhaps it's because of what they went through, losing everything and having to rebuild again.

"It's hard to explain, but I feel like I have stepped back 20 years in time, when everybody cared about everybody. It's not every man for himself here," Miller said. "I'm part of the community and I'm serving the community."