The city, school district and public library are hosting a series of events this month to commemorate the anniversary of a tornado that killed 35 people, demolished 300 homes and destroyed seven schools in Xenia 40 years ago.
The events mark the first time the city has organized multiple memorials to honor memories related to the tornado and its devastating aftermath as well as celebrate the city’s ongoing efforts to revitalize and restore itself.
“The issue is still very raw in the hearts and minds of people in our community,” said Brent Merriman, Xenia City Manager. “So it’s been our intent, as we planned some type of commemorative event, to be very sensitive to those concerns that still haunt people who experienced the tragedy here. But at the same time, noting that Xenia has come so far in the past four years in the building and resiliency of our community, we found it to be important to recognize that and to honor those who have helped to rebuild the community.”
A memorial service will be held at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday at the Greene County courthouse in Xenia.
The program will include a moment of silence for the victims killed by the tornado. Xenia Mayor Marsha Bayless will read each of the 35 victim’s names and a ceremonial bell will be rung.
“It was an event that changed the course of the city, and it would be a disservice to the people in the community if there wasn’t some kind of memorial,” said the city manager’s assistant, Amanda Zimmerlin, who helped coordinate the events.
A 5 p.m. reception will follow the memorial at the county library located at 76 East Market Street. The library will also host a presentation on the tornado rescue and recovery efforts at Greene Memorial and community efforts to help families in Moore, Okla. effected by a tornado last year.
The devastation and destruction caused by the 1974 tornado became national news at the time and was reported by media outlets around the country. Another tornado struck Xenia in 1989, and more than two decades after the 1974 tornado, one person was killed in a tornado that hit the city in 2000.
Now officials are concerned Xenia has been “defined” by the frequency of tornadoes.
“While the 1974 event is part of our history, it’s not what defines us,” Zimmerlin said. “It’s our ability to come together to actually be the city of hospitality. To come together and help each other when we actually need it.”
The 1974 tornado was part of a super-outbreak that killed 315 people over a two-day period when 148 tornadoes were reported across 13 states. The Xenia tornado caused an estimated $1 billion in damages, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute.
More than half of the school buildings were unusable and had to be destroyed before they could be rebuilt, said Mark Manley, a spokesman for Xenia Community Schools. Manley, who was a Xenia sixth grade student at the time, said students missed eight days of classes.
Xenia Community Schools, the city and Greene County Historical Society, will host a dedication ceremony at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Two Xenia High School alumni will present a plaque that commemorates the old high school’s cornerstone and flagpole. The plaque, which contains the original cornerstone from the high school that was destroyed in the 1974 tornado, will be housed in the new Xenia High School on Kinsey Road.
“In order to have the future that we want, we have to understand our past,” Manley said. “There’s a lot of great stories that came out of April 3, 1974 including the resilience of people and their willingness to help out their fellow man, neighbor helping neighbor and the community came back from a devastating event. Forty years later, we’re thriving, but we’re also looking to the future to do better.”
By Sharahn D. Boykin - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)
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