Images of the Oklahoma tornado hit close to home for a Granville, Illinois, grade school. That’s because it was leveled by a tornado in 2004.
Learning begins at Putnam County Primary School. But time ended there on an April evening nine years ago.
“I don’t look at that clock very much,” said retired teacher Barb Ringenberg.
Time stopped at 5:46 that evening. That’s when a tornado silenced her classroom clock. The second grade teacher was the only person still at school.
Remarkably, she emerged unharmed.
“Just to see the damage it could cause and bring to us was life-changing,” she recalled.
The tornado’s wrath ripping apart the school while devastating Granville and Utica. Students, teachers and staffers relocated to cramped spaces in other nearby schools.
“The school, itself, you could see major damage,” remembered current principal Ronda Cross.
Five years later, there’s a new $6 million school at the same site. Bathrooms are designed for safety drills.
“We had boys go in here,” said Ringenberg. “Girls go in here, and teachers go into both.”
Hallways clear of lockers and obstacles. Doors placed to avoid wind tunnels.
“We have practiced drills so many times this year,” Cross continued.
And there’s a gym built with reinforcing steel beams to prevent problems.
“We’re trying to ensure that our school is safe,” said Jay McCracken, superintendent of the 900-student district.
That common bond makes it easier to understand what Oklahoma is going through. It’s a long process that takes time, money and compassion.
“When the community draws together, they can all draw strength from it,” McCracken said.
It’s still emotional as Barb Ringenberg sees her former classroom. As the retired teacher looks out at Room 138, she remembers a terrible time with a tornado being repeated in Oklahoma.
“I just can’t imagine how they’re going to talk to these children about the loss of their classmates,” she concluded.
From time standing still in Granville, trying to forge ahead in Oklahoma.