The stories they shared made it clear the storm won’t soon be forgotten.
At a service held at First Baptist Church of Williams and another at Janney Furnace in Ohatchee, people swapped storm stories. Some shared from a behind a microphone how they were struck by the storm but lived to tell about it.
“I think it’s good to let people know what they’ve been through,” said Paul Curvin, spared on April 27, at the Janney Furnace memorial. “I think you need to do that.”
First Baptist Church of Williams was a center of volunteer effort following the storm. The church served thousands of meals, raised almost half a million dollars and brought in 1,500 volunteers to help portions of Calhoun County recover in the year since the tornado, church member Wallace Almaroad said from the pulpit Sunday.
Sunday afternoon, at a standing-room-only ceremony in the church sanctuary, pictures flashed on a screen showing the devastation, then the cleanup and finally some of the homes church members have built for storm victims free of charge.
“We can build a house,” Almaroad said. “We can jump in there and put one up.”
Mike Oliver was pastor of the church during the early stages of the recovery. He has since moved on to a church in Madison, but attended remembrance ceremonies at Williams on Saturday and throughout the day Sunday.
“Without his leadership we could have never done what we did,” Almaroad said.
While Almaroad spoke to the congregation in Williams, another anniversary event was wrapping up at Janney Furnace. There, people from the Ohatchee and Big Oak communities came out to remember the tornado and to reflect on how far storm survivors have come in the year since.
There, John David Hamm of Ohatchee shared his April 27 story. He told how he saw the storm approaching.
He told of how he and his wife and 12-year-old daughter took refuge in the only room that wasn’t destroyed in their lakeside home.
Attendees said of all the stories they heard at Janney Furnace on Sunday, Hamm’s affected them the most.
“It was really emotional,” said Calhoun County Commissioner Eli Henderson, who represents some of the county’s storm-struck communities. “It was really vivid and I think it taught everybody something.”
Hamm has since rebuilt on the same spot where his old home stood. He told the crowd that the experience has made him grateful to be alive.
Calhoun County emergency management officials helped organize the Ohatchee event and were also on hand to hear Hamm’s story. Tammy Bain, spokeswoman for the Calhoun County EMA, said she hopes people learn lessons from the stories of people like Hamm.
“He lost everything, pretty much, but he was okay and that’s pretty much all that mattered to him,” Bain said. “He told everybody that they need to be happy to be alive.”
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.