Thursday, Dec. 06 2012 5:10PM
The fear ‘never leaves you’
Lee’s Summit woman still emotional about tornado that ripped through Joplin
By Toriano Porter
The emotions are still raw for Brenda Rhodes; the fear of not knowing still causes her to choke up.
The Lee’s Summit woman had not one, but two sons living in Joplin when a tornado devastated the town in May of last year and caused the nation to descend upon southwest Missouri with overwhelming support.
Just as it did nationwide, the tornado ago also impacted many lives in Lee’s Summit. People from the area flocked to Joplin to lend support, but when the F5 tornado first touched down, Rhodes was left feeling helpless. Because of downed power lines and damaged cell phone towers, Rhodes couldn’t get in touch with her sons Toby and Zeke Johnston, who lived in the soon-to-be ravaged town.
It would be hours before she got a text saying that the brothers were OK.
“I was living here in Lee’s Summit and it was all over the news,” Rhodes said as she recounted the events of May 22, 2011. “I was just sitting there in horror.”
With the holiday season in full swing, Rhodes and her family are thankful that Toby and Zeke made it through safely. With so many lives lost, injuries sustained and billions of dollars in damages suffered, for her sons to come out alive and intact is a blessing within itself, Rhodes said.
“My son (Toby), they couldn’t live in their house for like six months,” she said. “It was an interesting time.”
Having a first-hand look at the tremendous support the town received in the wake of the tragedy, Toby Johnston – singer and songwriter for the Joplin-based band Felonious Monk – set out to write a song that would show gratitude to the thousands of volunteers and other personnel that helped with the clean up during the aftermath of the storm.
Felonious Monk’s song “I Wanna Thank You,” written by Toby Johnston, was the result, and both mother and son are thankful Toby is alive to have penned the song.
“(The fear) never leaves you,” Rhodes said. “It certainly doesn’t.”
Johnston, who still lives in Joplin and regularly performs with the three-member band, added: “We were actually at my house rehearsing when it happened. We all ended up riding it out in the bathroom of my house – all of us together. We had to take that summer three months of four months off playing music because we couldn’t play. My house is where we rehearse and practice at, and it got tore up.”
And the story behind the song, which can be heard on the band’s website feloniousmonkband.com?
“We just thought it was amazing all of the people who came by and volunteered whenever we were there cleaning up or working on the house or in the neighborhood,” Johnston said. “There were always people walking around asking ‘hey, do you guys need a sandwich? Do you need water? Do you need help? Do you need this or that?’ Just people from all over the country and all over the world that came and helped out. We just thought it was really neat.
“Not to write a song about ‘oh feel sorry for us.’ It was just thanking everybody for all of their help and everything that they dedicated. A lot of people volunteered and helped people recover. We wrote the song wanting to thank everybody. That’s the story behind the song.”