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Stockton 2003 tornado launches the Community Foundation of the Ozarks' efforts in disaster recovery

A sign of hope in Stockton after the 2003 tornado
Michele Skalicky/Brian Hammons
A sign of hope in Stockton after the 2003 tornado

In this segment of KSMU's series, Making a Difference, hear about CFO's work in helping communities recover from disaster.

The Community Foundation of the Ozarks is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding, and a lot has happened since a group of Springfield leaders brought the organization into existence in 1973.

Today, CFO, which has 53 affiliate organizations, administers about 3500 funds benefiting a wide variety of projects — from helping people who need orthodontic work to providing an opportunity for people to learn about the Holocaust. The CFO helps fund higher education through a variety of scholarships granted to high school students each year.

And in the early 2000s, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks found itself shifting focus to an area its founders hadn’t necessarily envisioned: Disaster recovery.

It was 2003, to be exact — one year after the Stockton CFO affiliate was created, and Brian Hammons with Hammons Products was its board president.

On May 4 of that year, multiple tornadoes touched down in southwest and central Missouri, devastating downtown Stockton and leaving three of its residents dead.

Brian Hammons stands in front of his business, Hammons Products in Stockton, MO
Michele Skalicky
Brian Hammons stands in front of his business, Hammons Products in Stockton, MO

Hammons, who is the president and CEO of Hammons Products in Stockton, saw a need to slow down and not rush into rebuilding the community.

"We had established a connection with the Community Foundation — with Gary Funk, the leader at that time, with some other folks, too," said Hammons. "And so, they were able to come and see what really has happened in Stockton, and they had a big heart for seeing what else they could to try and help, and so, they had some suggestions for what the foundation could do in creating funds for charitable contributions, for rebuilding, to help with our long term grant making fund even and maybe even a fund to help businesses with a revolving loan fund."

The story goes that the effort began when Brian Hammons reached out to the current CFO Brian Fogle who was with Great Southern Bank at the time. Fogle headed to Stockton to see the impact the storm had inflicted on the lake community, and, after driving through the devastated area about a week after the tornado hit, he sat down with Hammons and Hammons’s father Dwain in their storm-damaged office and wrote out plans on napkins from a Springfield donut shop. Those plans included ways to meet both immediate needs as well as long term redevelopment needs.

Louise Whall Knauer who now works for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks was with the City of Springfield at the time of the 2003 tornado outbreak. Gary Funk was head of CFO then.

"Gary Funk reached out to myself and some other folks from outside of the (Community Foundation of the Ozarks), which was much smaller at that point to just try to bring our collective knowledge to go up to Stockton and help them through a community redevelopment process in that case," said Knauer. "We weren't really involved in disaster recovery, really, or grant making at that time. Every disaster kind of takes on its own response, but that was our first experience in helping, specifically, the downtown area of the community of Stockton, rebuild itself."

Some of the others involved in the Stockton redevelopment effort included Brian Fogle, who is now the CFO’s executive director but who was working for Great Southern Bank when the tornado hit and Fred May who was with the City of Springfield at the time.

Damage following the 2003 Stockton tornado
Michele Skalicky/Brian Hammons
Damage following the 2003 Stockton tornado

The plan that was written out on a napkin consisted of three elements, Gary Funk wrote in an article during the CFO’s 40th anniversary celebration. They were: To quickly form an independent and locally controlled rebuilding fund, initiate a community-planning process and establish a privately funded community development corporation.

The Stockton Rebuilding Fund, under the umbrella of the Stockton Community Foundation, provided a way for people to give money for planning and redevelopment, according to Funk.

Hammons said Fred May and Fogle hosted a meeting for the community of Stockton.

"(We) had a good turnout and a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of hope," said Hammons. "That helped the community see that we could move forward. We were cleaning up. Yes, there could be a new, vibrant community come from the ashes — literally."

FEMA officials designated Stockton as a Long Term Community Recovery Site as part of a small town case study, according to Funk. The services FEMA offered were modeled after work it did in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Stockton Community Foundation was the vehicle that made it all happen.

Hammons said he attributes the successful recovery effort to the contacts they were able to make through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

"People who were envisioning the future of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks seeing the possibilities for reaching out to other small communities in the area had that vision, and we were one of the early beneficiaries," he said. "By establishing the affiliate and the affiliate program, it made a huge difference in our community and recovery."

And that effort led to CFO’s involvement in future disaster recovery efforts.

On May 22, 2011, Joplin was hit by an EF-5 tornado that tore through the heart of the city and left 161 people dead.

Brian Fogle said a staff member of the Joplin CFO affiliate called him the day after the storm to tell him about the unfathomable destruction. He drove down soon after to help set up a fund for long term recovery — to help pay for things such as rebuilding schools and parks and planting trees.

Donations came from all over — from places like the Middle East, the Home Depot Foundation and even from singer Sheryl Crow.

"She had a 1959 Mercedes convertible, and she wanted to donate it so it could be auctioned off and the proceeds to go, you know, the tornado," said Fogle. "And so, we took possession of that. It went to an auction that specialized in these types of cars out in California, and it brought $235,000. But when the buyer found out about what it was for, he matched that — wrote another check for $235,000."

Today, although no one will ever forget the tornadoes that took lives and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, both Stockton and Joplin have rebuilt and are thriving once again.

In Stockton, which began CFO’s effort in disaster recovery, brick buildings dot the downtown landscape, and house a variety of businesses, including a retail outlet for Hammons Products that also offers food and coffee, banks, a flower shop, banks, insurance agencies and more.

The cities serve as reminders that, no matter how much a community is devastated by natural disasters, there is hope for the future.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.